Celebrating 30 years as a syndicated cartoonist this year, today we hear from In the Bleachers cartoonist Steve Moore!
You might expect me to say that I’ve wanted to be a cartoonist from the moment I popped out of the womb, but I was never an “aspiring cartoonist.” I was an accidental cartoonist.
I showed a warning sign of heading down that path in grade school when I would draw cartoons in the margins of my textbook during math class. But it wasn’t because I wanted to be a cartoonist; I just needed to keep my brain occupied while I flunked math.
I did not set out to be a cartoonist. From the time I popped out of the womb, I wanted to be a veterinarian and tend to the medical needs of reptiles and amphibians. You know, like treating an iguana with hemorrhoids or a frog with flatulence.
I went to Oregon State University and majored in pre-veterinary medicine, but it didn’t work out because I kept my brain occupied with fraternity shenanigans. I didn’t flunk out, but my grades dipped so low that I had to punt the veterinarian dream and change my major to journalism, which did not require organic chemistry and embryology.
In my junior year at OSU, a roommate let me borrow two books: “Whack Your Porcupine” and “Never Eat Anything Bigger Than Your Head.” They were collections of cartoons by B. Kliban. Never heard of him? Then I feel sorry for you, but it’s not too late to catch up. Go here to meet Kliban.
The Kliban cartoons were like nothing I’d ever seen. They were far beyond the madness of even Mad magazine, which I loved mostly because my parents told me not to read it.
Kliban was the spark that got me fooling around with cartoons. Still, I was not “aspiring.” I focused on newspaper journalism. After graduation, I was sports editor at The Maui News when I first caught a glimpse of The Far Side by Gary Larson, who also happened to be a Kliban disciple. Like many others, I was inspired by Larson’s world, so I decided to draw a sports cartoon with a Kliban/Larson spin and – as an afterthought – submit it for syndication.
I sketched about a dozen sample cartoons and mailed them to three newspaper syndicates. A week later, Tribune Media Services offered a contract. One month later, on Sept. 1, 1985, In the Bleachers launched in about 30 newspapers. In 1995, I switched to Universal Uclick.
On Sept. 1, 2015, In the Bleachers will be age 30.
-- I was a news editor at the Los Angeles Times on “breaking news teams” that earned a Pulitzer Prize in 1992 (Rodney King Riots) and in 1994 (Northridge Earthquake.)
-- I resigned as executive news editor at The Times in 1996 and chased a dream of working in animated TV and film. “Open Season” (Sony Pictures Animation); “Alpha & Omega” (Lions Gate Films); “Metalheads” (TV Loonland/BBC); “In the Bleachers” animated shorts (Disney/ESPN).
-- I have Essential Tremor, a nervous system disorder that causes shaking, mostly in my hands. It’s not deadly (unless you make a living disarming explosives) but it’s a pain in the butt if you draw cartoons. ET affects 10 million people in the U.S. and millions more worldwide. There is no cure. To control my shaking, I need to either take a medication called “propranolol” or drink an alcoholic beverage. (See “Slug” illustration.)
Either solution is a double-edged sword. March is Essential Tremor Awareness Month. Check it out here.
1. Tell us about the early life of Glenn McCoy. How and when did the art bug hit? When did you decide to be a cartoonist?
I’m lucky that I’ve always known that drawing and cartooning was in my destiny. I started drawing at the age of four. My first drawing was of the Lone Ranger. My Grandpa was a talented guy and had a unique way of teaching me how to draw. He would sit me down next to him at his kitchen table with two blank sheets of paper. My Grandpa would draw a line and then he’d have me draw the same line. Then he’d draw another line and I would match him line for line. In about an hour, we had two identical drawings of a naked woman. Around that time, my Grandma would see what we were up to and chase us out of the kitchen. My older brother, Gary, kept me drawing because he drew and I wanted to do whatever he did. We both collected Peanuts paperbacks, memorizing each punch line and even studying how the gags were structured. At that point I decided I wanted to be a cartoonist. I drew constantly though my childhood and was the cartoonist for my grade school, high school and college papers. I earned extra money as a teen drawing caricatures on the river boats docked on the river, and drumming up small freelance jobs like illustrating place mats for local pizza places. My first steady cartooning gig came after I graduated college and landed the job of editorial cartoonist at the Belleville News-Democrat.
2. Do you have other art styles (any gallery exhibits, stuff like that)? What training do you have? If someone wants to have a career like yours, how would they start?
I do a lot of different things besides editorial cartoons, ranging from comic strips (The Duplex and The Flying McCoys) to children’s books, greeting cards, magazine cartoons and concept art and storyboards for TV and movies. For each editor, I try to approach the drawing differently. Although I spend a majority of my time on cartooning and illustration assignments, I make room in my busy schedule for personal work. This can sometimes be difficult, but I know painting feeds my illustrations, and vice versa. I always have a serious drawing or painting in my studio and I go back and forth from my cartooning jobs. It helps to clear the mind, explore new options and experiment with other techniques. I show my work occasionally at galleries in the St. Louis area.
3. Could you tell us about your route to syndication?
I guess you could say it was serendipity. It began when I heard of a contest King Features was sponsoring to find a new comic strip artist. The top 50 runners-up were to receive an attractive hardcover book on the history of cartooning. I entered in hopes of winning this consolation prize, and, instead won the contest. At that point, I had the attention of the syndicates, which was a weird situation for a young cartoonist to be in, because I had no strip to show. I spent the next few months working up a series of comic strip ideas, which culminated in the premise for The Duplex. I received a couple of contract offers, including one from Universal, which I quickly signed, and I've lived happily ever after.
4. Did you or your syndicate change anything about The Duplex or do we see it as you first submitted it?
When I originally submitted The Duplex to Universal, there was an extra character on each side of the apartment. On the "guy side" were two human friends and their dog, Fang. On the other side were two girls and their poodle, Mitzi. After a few weeks of development, I realized I could kill off the extra characters and incorporate their personalities into the dogs. Lately, the strip has focused more on the guys Eno and Fang because the sarcastic tone of the humor plays better with these two. I like the aspect of Fang serving as both Eno's pet and roommate. I know that at times my own dog seems like a friend until I see it drinking out of a toilet bowl. My friends hardly ever do this. It's this duality with animals being both friend and animal that I try to have fun with.
5. What attracted you to editorial cartoons? Who is your inspiration? Why?
I think what first attracted me to editorial cartooning was the quality of art being produced in the field when I was in college. As an apolitical art student I was inspired by the drawings that Jeff MacNelly, Pat Oliphant and Mike Peters were producing at that time. I was also struck by how much larger the editorial cartoons were in relation to the daily comic strips. I remember thinking what a great job it must be to be able to fill that large chunk of the paper with a drawing each day. Later, when I had landed the political cartooning job, I quickly realized the importance of having sound opinions and that the art was simply a means of expressing those ideas in a clear and concise visual way. I take what I do very seriously and I feel very blessed to be given a daily forum to voice my opinions. It’s a great responsibility and I love what I do.
6. Are some editorial topics harder to draw than others? Why? What are the toughest ones? Why? Do you ever avoid those issues because of drawing issues? Are there any issues or events that you have just had artist’s block, and you simply could not make the idea two-dimensional?
Some topics are tough because I’ve touched on them so many times in the past. Issues like government corruption, wasted tax money, voter fraud … I’ve done so many cartoons on these subjects that the challenge becomes finding some new angle or visual metaphor to express my feelings. Another challenge is when a huge story breaks, like 9/11. In these instances, I know that every cartoonist in the world will be drawing about the same thing, so I try to avoid the obvious ideas that I think others will do and come up with something that will stand apart from my peers. Writer's block is a very real part of cartooning and something I deal with on a daily basis. Deadlines are forever looming off in the distance and there’s no getting around them. The challenge of a cartoonist is to find the best idea in the short amount of time you’re given. Once I have an idea, the real work is done, because the drawing is what I enjoy the most. Ultimately, deadlines are vanquished because the threat of not getting a paycheck is one hell of a motivator.
7. How long does the average editorial cartoon take? Why do they take more or less time?
When people ask me how long it took me to draw a specific cartoon, I usually reply “about 20 years.” Each cartoon is the cumulative product of years of honing my drawing and writing skills and comes from a lot of hard work and discipline. The hardest part about what I do is finding the right idea. This is a process that can take a few minutes or all day. My drawing style is intended to look casual and spontaneous, but I will oftentimes redraw the same cartoon four or five times because it doesn’t have the right loose feel I’m striving for. In the last few years, I’ve started coloring my drawings in the computer, which sometimes doubles or triples the time I spend on a cartoon. I usually use up every last minute of my deadlines.
8. Walk us through the process of an editorial cartoon from concept to finished product. How long does it take? Does anyone else see the process, and do they have any say over the direction?
I usually begin each day reading the paper and checking news sites and blogs on the computer over breakfast at a coffee shop. If I’m in my studio, I’ll listen to the radio or have cable news programs running with the sound down. I jot down topics that I feel strongly about or issues that the readers are writing about on the letters page. On a good day, I’ll have a list of five to 10 news items to choose from. On most days, it's really an editing process. The ideas are out there, waiting for me to react to them. Ultimately, my
final decision is based on which news stories I feel most strongly about, because it’s these topics that spark the best ideas. The next phase is to simply have fun scribbling sketches and free associating words, thoughts and images. This probably looks like “goofing off” to the untrained eye, but it’s at this stage in the process when the best ideas begin to appear. Once I’ve settled on my cartoon idea, the drawing seems to go by quickly because it’s at this stage that I have the most fun. I pencil out the drawing in a very rough form because I like to surprise myself in the inking phase, making last-minute decisions and adding small details and visual jokes. Once the cartoon is inked, I scan it into the computer and add color in Photoshop. Then, I step back and brace myself for the wave of angry letters that follows.
Back in the early 2000s, I graduated from college. Shortly after that, I got a “real” job as a graphic designer. The very first ad I designed was for a funeral home. It was at that moment I knew I wanted to be a cartoonist. Because, come on. Designing ads for funeral homes? It’s a dead end … in more ways than one.
To be clear, I’ve always wanted to be a cartoonist. It has been my dream ever since I was three, and colored my baby sister’s face with a marker to make her “pretty” (true story). But when I was typing out the phrase “cremation special,” that’s when I was 100% certain.
My first comic strip emerged when I was in grade school, back in the early ’80s. It was called “Nerds.” It consisted of nerd characters, beating up bullies. In every strip. Clearly, I had issues.
After years of hits and misses, I came up with the idea for Imagine THIS, around 2006. Which, if you don't already know, is a comic about a grown man who still lives with his teddy bear friend from childhood. It also has Klingons. And a talking plant. Needless to say, it's amazing.
After that? Fame and fortune, baby. *
Working on Imagine THIS has been an incredible experience for me. Life-changing. It has allowed me opportunities I never thought possible. From meeting amazing creators like Richard Thompson, Bill Amend, Lincoln Peirce and Stephan Pastis, to working with Chris Sparks and AMU on the “Team Cul de Sac” project.
If not for this comic, I never would have my met my good friend and future writing partner, Greg Grunberg. Greg is one of the actors from the TV shows “Heroes” and “Alias.” He and I have been working on some incredible, comics-related projects for a few years. One of which I hope to announce very soon! It’s going to be amazing.
I think laughter is my biggest inspiration. If I can make just one person laugh, even if only for a split second, my day is made. And if I can make them shoot some sort of beverage through their nose, I've done my job. And I move on. Like Bill Bixby at the end of “The Incredible Hulk."
After college, I started discovering non-superhero, graphic novel titles like “Bone,” “Creature Tech,” and “Amulet,” all of which were a gateway into the incredible world of all-ages graphic novels like “Lunch Lady,” “Squish” and “Smile.” Where were these books when I was growing up?!
I recently finished my first picture book for Flashlight Press, called “Dragon and Captain.” Available this April! It’s about two imaginative boys who think they’re a Dragon and a ship’s captain. They go on an epic backyard adventure to recover Captain’s lost ship from evil pirates. The book is designed to look like a graphic novel, and is very much in the spirit of Calvin and Hobbes. It was a lot of fun to illustrate! It is my hope that this will be my first of many picture books.
I’m planning to sign some “Dragon and Captain” books at the American Library Association’s annual convention in June 2015. Come on out!
My studio space consists of an ancient drafting table, an old Mac, lots of book and … some Star Wars toys. For, um, inspiration. Yeah, that's it.
I currently work on paper with pen. But I’m hoping to make the switch to digital, later this year. Woo-hoo! Moving on up, baby. Cue “The Jeffersons” theme song!
Art is my family’s vocation. My mom and dad met in art school, and I was extremely fortunate to grow up in a home where drawing and creativity were truly celebrated and fostered. My father is a cartoonist; I have strong, meaningful memories of the smells of magic markers and poster paints, and the sounds of jazz and old-time radio emanating from his studio. The artistic lessons I learned there and throughout the rest of the house were key to my desire to become an artist.
I studied drawing and painting in art school. Upon graduating, I began to show my artwork in galleries, but I soon discovered that this venue was not right for me. Wishing to reach a wider audience and tell stories, I began to illustrate and write children’s books. Over the years, I’ve created a number of fiction and non-fiction titles that have been published by Viking and G.P. Putnam Sons. Most of my books have featured animals – real or imaginary – harkening back to my childhood interest in animals (I used to keep a menagerie in my room – more olfactory memories!). My one non-animal-themed book centers on another long-term interest of mine: architecture.
At the same time the illustration technique for my children’s books was becoming increasingly tighter in style, my colleagues and friends were noting that they liked the freshness of my preparatory sketches. Their observations helped me realize that I needed a break; I’d been moving away from the fun I’d had making art when I was younger. Instead of buying a sports car, my mid-life crisis consisted of learning to loosen up with my drawing and have fun doing it!
About six years ago, I began sharing my drawings online. I scanned many old and new drawings and posted them on Facebook, sometimes with titles or captions, and sometimes without. My friends made playful responses to this posted work, which I greatly enjoyed. I was thrilled when, about three and a half years ago, I was given the opportunity to post my drawings as a feature on GoComics.
That’s when The LeftyBosco Picture Show was born.
Who is LeftyBosco? “Lefty” and “Bosco” were two nicknames my father called me when I was a kid; I like the ring of the names when combined. I added the phrase “Picture Show” to the title, because it accurately describes what I’m doing with my daily drawing feature. “Picture Show” also evokes old cinema, another big inspiration for me.
My feature presents a variety of drawing styles and subjects: from doodles to rendered drawings, from playful to poignant. I occasionally offer glimpses into my older sketchbooks; sometimes I create new work that’s kicking around in my head. I’ve developed various series, as well, such as Rejected by the Patent Office, Pet of the Day and Saturdoodleday. I’m delighted to read the comments and captions that viewers are kind enough to make each day.
I am currently working on a number of art projects. One project features a main character named Wellington Winthrop, whose world has been glimpsed on my Picture Show over the years. I am collaborating with the talented writer Carol Walsh Greer on an illustrated novel featuring Mr. Wellington.
So stay tuned to The LeftyBosco Picture Show, and please leave a comment if you are so inclined. Thank you!
I was born into this world an involuntary doodler. I just couldn’t help it. If I saw a pencil, I picked it up and quickly surveyed the area for paper. Any available paper. That included phone bills, wedding invitations and any important documents within my reach.
This behavior continued throughout my schooling. My notebooks contained more drawings than class notes. Parent-teacher conferences would usually conclude with the phrase: “Donald would do much better if he spent more time paying attention and less time drawing silly cartoons.”
And that is how my parents became aware of the awful truth: Their son was an aspiring cartoonist.
At the age of 12, I submitted my first cartoon. The Famous Artists School had a simple entrance exam on a matchbook cover: Draw Spunky the Donkey. I drew Spunky and mailed it in.
After weeks and weeks of waiting, I forgot all about Spunky – until that memorable spring day when the doorbell rang. A representative from the Famous Artists School was here to inform my parents of my potential as an artist.
I can still hear the tires screeching as my future in art quickly peeled away into the distance.
I never had any formal art instruction as a kid. I took my first drawing class at a community college that I attended after high school. I enjoyed the class and decided to transfer to Kean University and major in Visual Communications. They had a school newspaper with a comics page. I nervously went to the newspaper offices the first day of classes and met with the editor, Ray Lago. I asked him how I could get a comic strip in the paper. He said to bring one in by the end of the week. I went back to the dorm and drew up “Old Man Munsk.” My first comic strip appeared a week later. That was more than 30 years ago, and Ray and I are still great friends.
After college, I freelanced like every other artist I knew. I did cartoons and humorous illustrations for magazines, as well as storyboards and print ad mock-ups for ad agencies.
Then, I was hired as the artist for Ripleys’s Believe It or Not! It was my first experience with syndication. I spent 14 years with Ripley’s, gaining valuable experience that prepared me for my next adventure – Rose Is Rose!
Writing and drawing a daily comic strip was my dream from early on. Becoming part of Rose Is Rose was so much bigger than any dream I could have imagined. Pat Brady created a cast of characters who are beloved by millions of fans. I will always be grateful to him for trusting me with his creation. Besides being an outstanding cartoonist, he is a great friend and generous mentor.
There is one thing I know for sure about doing a daily comic strip: Don’t wait for inspiration. Inspiration is fickle and stingy. There are moments – beautiful moments – when an idea just flows from your mind onto the page – but those are rare. Generally, my ideas start with a doodle. A tiny sketch. It might be in the notebook I carry everywhere, but more often than not, it’s on a receipt or tiny scrap of paper or even a napkin. I still draw on anything available. I’ve even used the voice memo feature on my phone to record an idea. Ideas will fly away with incredible velocity.
I enjoy creating little stories. Pacing out a gag can take a lot of little sketches. I learned early on not to do too much thinking, stargazing or daydreaming. It’s better to just draw. Some ideas are stubborn. Those get taped to the wall of my studio until I can take the time to figure them out. Some months, there are dozens of sketches silently hanging on the sidelines, waiting for their chance to get in the game.
Occasionally, I visit schools and give cartooning workshops. It’s a great way to see how fearless kids can be. Give them paper, a special cartooning pencil and 20 minutes, and they will create a comic strip. They laugh at their own work and proudly share it with their classmates. Grammar school is the perfect time for cartooning workshops. Kids are confident when they’re not being graded. They think they can draw anything – and they can.
I remember sitting in the back of my third grade math class doodling funny drawings, attracting attention from nearby classmates and immediately getting in trouble for said doodles and being disruptive in class. This was almost a daily occurrence all the way up through my school years and even into college.
It’s good to see my own kids carrying on the tradition of doodling cartoons in class in the margins of test papers and homework. His teacher seems to be more accepting of it than mine were.
I loved to draw ever since I could remember.
My mom now jokes that what I used to get in trouble for doing in a class, people now gladly pay me for. Funny how that works.
Growing up, I always wanted to be either a comic book artist or an animator. In ninth grade, I started collecting comic books, mostly of characters and titles that captured my imagination (Conan, Spider-man, Batman, Tarzan, Warlord, to name a few), and artists whose styles I admired. I still have boxes of all of those comics stored away in protective comic book cases. I cherish these old comics because those were my foundation for learning to draw. I would sit drawing for hours at a time, copying, imitating, studying every ink line, every fold, every facial expression, every hand gesture. I was completely captivated by how these incredibly talented artists could make those images jump off the page and come to life by simply drawing lines on paper.
While in high school, I started drawing for my school newspaper and yearbook, designed class T-shirts, posters and editorial illustrations. I was introduced to the world of commercial art by my 10th grade art teacher and I immediately decided on that as my career choice.
I was never really interested in comic strips until I was in college and discovered Bloom County, Doonesbury, Shoe and Calvin and Hobbes. It was through these strips that I started to develop a deeper appreciation for the art form. While in college, I played around with my own strip ideas, but never really pursued it seriously. I started working as a professional freelance illustrator while I was still in college for local South Florida design firms and ad agencies.
After a few false starts, I was finally able to make a full-time go of it. My illustration career has allowed me to work from home and allows me the flexibility to spend time with my family. If I want to play hooky with my boys and take them fishing, I can.
Now days I split my time working on the Baldo strips, some freelance illustration projects, teaching workshops, speaking and coaching/consulting other artists on how to build a successful freelance career doing what they love.
I had never seriously considered doing a comic strip until Hector Cantu pitched the idea to me back in 1998. Hector and I met when he, a magazine editor at the time, saw my illustration work in an artist directory. Hector contacted me about doing freelance illustrations for the magazine. Over the next two years, we struck up a friendship through numerous phone calls until Hector suggested creating a comic strip together about a Latino family. It was 1998 and I had just had my firstborn son and I wanted to start creating work that was more personal in nature, something that was own. Something I could leave behind as a notable legacy for my kids to remember me by. Sappy, I know, but happy – your very first child will do that to you.
Over the next year or so, we created a month's worth of comics and were surprised at the positive response from syndicate companies.
Baldo launched in April of 2000 to nearly 100 newspaper clients. The rest is, shall we say, history. In the 15 years we’ve worked together, we’ve met face-to-face only about seven or eight times. We mostly communicate on the phone and e-mail.
Working on the strip together is great! There are lots of scenarios, themes and family issues to explore. In a way, it’s like therapy and keeps me sane (when we’re meeting our deadlines, anyway).
A pinch-me moment
In 1977, as part of my weekly ritual, I walked into my local comic book store to pick up my comics, and a magazine caught my eye that I had never seen before. It was called Cartoonist Profiles. It had interviews with dozens of the best-known cartoonists and illustrators and offered a peek into each artists’ work life, creative methodology and process. I immediately fell in love with that magazine and continued to collect it for many years. I still have that very first copy that I purchased.
Fifteen years later, in the June 2002 issue of Cartoonist Profiles, we were among the interviewed cartoonists, and Baldo made the cover.
Wow!! I was stoked!
It’s been a great ride so far. Looking forward to many more years of creative growth, story-telling and connecting with our audience.
I always thought I stumbled into the cartooning world by chance, but the more I reflect on it, the more I realize that I have been cartooning my entire life. I recently sorted through some high school stuff, only to see that my notebooks were literally filled with comics. I also had an entire closet full of manga and other comic books. Like many cartoonists, Calvin and Hobbes and The Far Side defined my childhood.
I always loved art, and recently graduated from the Maryland Institute College of Art with a BFA in Illustration. When I was a sophomore in school, I posted a few comics on Tumblr for kicks, and when a few went somewhat viral, I decided that I could make my webcomic a serious project. During my senior year, one of my comics got accepted into the first-ever Comic and Cartooning Annual by the Society of Illustrators. Now, having been graduated for a few months, I make my career as a full-time cartoonist and illustrator.
I like making fun of myself and the world around me. My character, who is emotional, awkward, lazy and somewhat unstable, is a reflection of myself. I believe there are many universal qualities that most people have but don’t necessarily talk about, and that’s what I love to write about. My character is the complete opposite of cool, and drawing her is a relief because I can let my guard down and talk about what really makes up my inner world.
I have a strong aversion to anything that comes off as pretentious. Maybe four years at an art school finally did it, but I don’t have patience for anything (people, art, music) that tries to elevate itself above other people. That’s why I love comics – I love the honesty of humor and the gritty simplicity of comic artwork.
My character hangs out with a talking pet rabbit. This guy comes from a little buddy I had in high school, who was the calmest, most stoic rabbit you could ever meet.
When I was creating the comic, I realized that in order to prevent the main character from being too internal, she needed someone to bounce her thoughts off of. Partially inspired from my pet and partially from Hobbes, the rabbit serves as a quieter, more reflective counterpart to the loud craziness of “Sarah.”
Like my life, I feel like my webcomic is still in its earlier stages, despite having been around for a few years. I’ve just recently achieved syndication on GoComics, started writing comics for College Humor and have been designing an online class for Skillshare. I’m still experimenting with techniques, and have just picked illustration back up again to work on a zine with some friends from school. I’m a recent college grad in my early twenties, so my studio is a desk in my room with warped floors, and I’m still trying to learn how to balance my time.
That being said, I’m moving soon (yay for floors that aren’t warped!) and have a lot of projects that I’m happy to be working on. Everything seems to be moving forward and I’m getting the hang of being a working artist. I’m more than excited to keep making work.
How did you begin your career as a cartoonist?
I grew up in a tiny country town called Karratha in the remote northwest of Western Australia. There was never much to do, so all I did my entire childhood was draw. I didn’t play sports or music – I was a weird, quiet kid who carried a clipboard full of paper with me everywhere I went and drew everything I saw.
Making strangers laugh became a lifelong addiction that began when my History teacher asked me to draw a caricature of the school gardener for a retirement present. He paid me $20.
He created a monster.
I started freelancing as a caricaturist straight out of high school, while working a hefty slew of dreadful jobs. Eventually, I got a job working 20-hour shifts for a newspaper doing everything from proofreading, subbing, laying out ads, writing stories, editing photos, to creating maps and graphics – oh, and the daily editorial cartoon (if I was still awake). I used to go to sleep at 7 a.m. with newsprint burned into my retinas. I did learn a lot about the newspaper industry, though.
I was a big Ginger Meggs fan growing up – he was always hugely popular in Australia – and at 19, I met one of my idols and my subsequent cartooning mentor, James Kemsley. He was president of the Australian Cartoonists Association, so we worked together on the club magazine, Inkspot, for many years and always caught up each year in person at the Stanley Awards (our Australian Reubens). Over the years, we became friends and he taught me a lot about being a cartoonist.
Three days before Kemsley died of Motor neurone disease, he asked me to take over from him as the writer and artist for Ginger Meggs.
Ginger Meggs had three other artists before Kemsley, including the creator, Jimmy Bancks. He created the strip in 1921 and made it an Australian icon. The prime minister of Australia called Ginger “Australia’s Peter Pan.” He said, “Most of us can recognize in him our own youth, but unlike him, we had to grow up.”
In World War II, Australian pilots would draw Ginger Meggs on the side of their planes and anyone with red hair was nicknamed ‘Ginge’ or ‘Meggsie.’
Ginger went on to get his own Australian dollar coin, postage stamps and various other honors. Plants are named after him. There are Australian parks created in his name – he even got his own feature film in 1982.
After Bancks died in 1952, Ron Vivian took over writing and drawing the strip until he died in 1973. Lloyd Piper then continued the strip from ’73 until his sudden death in 1983, whereupon James Kemsley took the mantle for 23 years.
It’s a huge honor to continue the legacy of an Australian icon into the next generation.
What do you consider to be your biggest achievements or accomplishments?
Well, I put on pants this morning. That’s something.
If I were to nail it down, the thing I’m most proud of, being elected president of the Australian Cartoonists Association when I was 26 was a great honour. It was a great chance to work hard at furthering cartooning as a diverse, evolving industry. The ACA has been running since 1924, making it the oldest cartooning organization in the world. I’ve served on the board for 10 years and still serve as the deputy president. I’m excited to join the board of the National Cartoonists Society this year.
I think the most important thing cartoonists can do these days is help each other out and give each other a leg up wherever they can. I was very lucky to have had Kemsley send the elevator back down when I was starting out, and I’ve always lived by that same ethos. Wherever I can, I love introducing audiences to new comics – especially by young Australian creators. The front page of gingermeggs.com always features new and fun Australian web cartoonists who I think fans will enjoy.
There are lots of new international readers discovering Ginger Meggs every day, and I’m always pleased to hear from them. I was happy to hear the Comic Strip Critic enjoys the strip!
I was asked to host the 2013 Reuben Awards in Pittsburgh, which was another huge achievement for a doofus like me. I had some big shoes to fill following Tom Gammill (he has a strip called The Doozies here on GoComics. I don’t know if you’d have heard of it; he NEVER promotes it anywhere …)
Tell us about your studio/workspace.
I now live and work from New York with my wife, Sophie. My workspace is a shared studio in an old building on Madison Ave. (Settle down, it’s not as fancy as it sounds.) I had worked from home for 10 years previously, which took a lot of discipline (but not a lot of pants). It’s good to have an “office” to go to for work, because I can close the door at the end of the day and stop work. I think that’s important for a freelancer, otherwise I’d just work all day and night and never see my wife. Or sunlight.
I liked to change my work routine up a lot when I worked from home. The only two things I didn’t change were working at a standing desk and doing Transcendental Meditation twice a day. Everything else was flexible. I’m back to a sitting desk now, and meditating in an open-plan office looks a bit creepy, so now I have to adapt those two things, too.
What inspires you?
One of the things that inspires me most is seeing other artists working in person. I attend the Reubens every year (and had attended the Australian version, the “Stanleys,” every year since I was 19). Nothing re-energizes your inspiration and enthusiasm for cartooning like being around other cartoonists – seeing them work and joke around with each other.
What was your favorite childhood comic? What comics do you read today?
My influences growing up were Bob Camp/Jon Kricfalusi (Ren & Stimpy), Bill Watterson, and Todd MacFarlane’s drawings of Spider-Man. I was a big fan of Ginger Meggs, which I read every day in my local newspaper, and in all the collections.
I was completely enamored of MAD. Mort Drucker, Jack Davis and Sergio Aragonés are in my pantheon of cartooning gods. I’ve had the great honor of meeting all three, who seemed to be completely immune to the old saying “never meet your heroes; they always disappoint.”
Do you have any upcoming projects or appearances?
2015 is a big year for Ginger Meggs. After 94 years and four generations, he takes another leap forward in trying to capture the next generation of readers.
I’ve been agonizing over how best to capture the attention of the iGeneration for the last seven years. Ginger Meggs has a Facebook page and profile, Twitter, Weibo, Tumblr and Pinterest accounts, an ebook, a blog, and of course a wonderful loyal readership here at GoComics – but something was still bugging me about watching my 18-month-old nephew and wondering how on earth he’d be discovering and reading comics in his lifetime.
I noticed one day he was playing with his mum’s iPhone and he knew intuitively to scroll down on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to see pictures and videos. Something clicked in my brain and I thought, “What if the Ginger Meggs comic strips scrolled down, panel by panel, like Instagram?”
I studied the GoComics app and experimented with a few different formats. I figured the best way for as many people to access it is if they don’t need to download anything new to view it, and something that worked on all mobile operating systems. For that reason, I made it a mobile-designed website, accessible from any browser, just for the iGeneration, and predictably named it iMeggsie.com (golf clap).
That’s not to say that it hasn’t been done before – the Internet is a big place full of clever folks. It probably has already been done. Let me know if you’ve seen it anywhere else! I’d love to see how they did it.
The great thing is it only runs old archived strips that already ran a while back, so it doesn’t compete with my newspaper clients or GoComics, who always run the latest strips. The purpose of iMeggsie is to attract new fans, and direct them to where the new strips are, so there’s a link up at the top of iMeggsie redirecting them straight to Ginger Meggs on GoComics.
I only launched it on January 1, so it’s too early to get any idea of whether it’s a good idea yet, but I figured it was worth trying something rather than sitting around doing the same old thing.
Upcoming appearances? Well, anyone who’s planning on coming to the 2015 Reuben Awards in Washington DC (and I hope you all are) will get to see me hosting the awards night again. But don’t let that put you off – it should be a great weekend. I promise.
There’s an old song by the Carter Family called “Hello, Stranger.” It’s more or less a musical greeting in which the singer tells whoever is listening: “We don’t know each other, but let’s be friends.” I’m no singer, as anyone who’s heard me can surely attest. But I like the song. And I like making friends.
So: Hello, stranger. Welcome to my blog.
As I write this, it’s early January 2015, which means that my comic strip, Big Nate, has been in print for almost exactly twenty-four years. I’m pleased and proud to have hung around that long, because cartooning is not necessarily an easy way to make a living. But even at a young age, I got the feeling that it was an occupation that would suit me. I remember reading a quote from my boyhood idol, Charles Schulz of Peanuts fame, which went something like this: To be a cartoonist, you need to be a good artist, not a great artist; and a good writer, not a great writer. And I thought to myself: “I’ve found my dream job.”
But, finding my dream job didn’t mean I practiced a lot. The drawing shown here notwithstanding, I wasn’t one of those kids who spent countless hours mastering my craft. I loved to draw, but I enjoyed plenty of other things, too – like playing sports, watching Saturday morning TV shows, and having the occasional near-death experience while climbing trees or riding bikes. So even though I identified myself as a cartoonist starting in about 2nd or 3rd grade, I always knew there were plenty of other people who could draw better than I could (as Charlie Brown’s lower body in this masterpiece clearly indicates). To be honest, I spent more time reading comics than I did drawing them. I collected a few comic books avidly – Uncle Scrooge, Batman and Spiderman were some of my favorites – but my real passion was newspaper comic strips. Peanuts was at the very top, of course, but I read ‘em all. I loved B.C., Doonesbury, Andy Capp, Tumbleweeds, Blondie and Fred Basset. Later, in high school, I began to learn about the great strips from the Golden Age of comics, like Krazy Kat, Thimble Theatre, Terry and the Pirates, Little Nemo and Polly and Her Pals. And I read plenty of comics I DIDN’T like, too. That’s a good education in its own right.
My progression as a cartoonist through my teens and early twenties was not particularly noteworthy. In high school, I drew comics savaging the teachers I didn’t care for. (Good taste prohibits me from including any of them here.) And in college, I created a weekly comic strip called Third Floor. Here’s a sample:
It was basically a Doonesbury rip-off. And this might be the worst drawing of a moose in comics history. But that’s okay. Imitating other cartoonists’ styles, either consciously or unconsciously, is a stage most everyone goes through. So is drawing stuff – like a moose – you have no clue how to draw.
Speaking of having no clue, I’d begun submitting ideas to the major syndicates by this time. They were all terrible. I’ll give myself a small amount of credit for making incremental improvements with each submission, but progress was slow until I created a comic strip based on my childhood in New Hampshire. The characters, most of them kids, were loosely modeled on friends I’d grown up with. It was, literally, a neighborhood comic strip. I named it Neighborhood Comix. What an imaginative title!
Among the cast were two brothers: Nate on the left, and Marty on the right. Does Marty’s shirt look familiar?
Here’s what happened to Neighborhood Comix. United Media liked the strip, but thought that Nate looked too much like Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes. So I decided to turn the two brothers into one character. I kept Nate’s name, but made him look and act more like Marty, who had a bigger, more outrageous personality. Then I changed the name of the strip to reflect the fact that Nate was now unquestionably the main character. “Big Nate” was what I’d called my brother Jon when we were kids (long story), so I was already attached to the name. Neighborhood Comix was out. Big Nate was in.
(Quick note: This process actually took about a year and a half of blood, sweat and tears, but for brevity’s sake, I decided to limit this epic tale to one paragraph.)
And here’s the first-ever Big Nate daily strip, from January 7, 1991:
Check out Nate’s long, skinny legs! Poor kid, he’s actually grown shorter and stubbier with the passage of time. (And, thank goodness, my drawing skills have improved.) Anyway, back then the strip had only a handful of characters: Nate, Dad, Ellen, Francis, Jenny, Mrs. Godfrey and Mr. Rosa. Characters who have since become important contributors – Teddy, Chad, Coach John, Artur, Gina, Mrs. Shipulski, Principal Nichols, Spitsy, Mrs. Czerwicki, School Picture Guy and others – have been added along the way. Some of them are really fun to draw and write for, and it’s impossible for me to imagine the strip without them. But Nate is the star of the show, and always will be.
When I’m asked to describe Nate, I often say that he’s his own biggest fan. He’s only eleven years old, remember, and I think most kids that age tend to be interested primarily in their own lives – not because they’re selfish or conceited, but because eleven year-old children aren’t SUPPOSED to be filled with empathy and humility and all that stuff. That’s what adulthood is for, and Nate’s definitely not an adult yet. So I don’t want to make him wise beyond his years, or endow him with traits that an eleven-year-old couldn’t possibly possess. I want him to look, act, and sound like a real kid. Real, but not ordinary. He’s a little more over-the-top than your everyday 6th grader, but after all, it’s a cartoonist’s job to exaggerate.
Soon after I started the strip, I discovered that the jokes and stories I enjoyed the most were the ones that focused on Nate’s school experiences. That wasn’t a surprise, since I’d been a high school art teacher/baseball coach for three years after finishing graduate school. So P.S. 38, the school where Nate attends 6th grade (year after year), moved to the center of the strip and stayed there. I like it that way. Schools can be very funny places. Here are a few strips I like dealing with school themes:
After 24 years of this, I have to admit that coming up with fresh, funny ideas is getting more challenging. But my routine hasn’t really changed. I begin each day by reading the comics in each of the two morning newspapers. (My favorite strip is Monty, by my friend Jim Meddick. Hilarious.) Then I go to my office, which is a three-second commute across the dining room, and get to work. I write and doodle in small sketchbooks or on Post-it notes, and that usually helps spark an idea or two.
And when the time comes to actually draw a strip, I’m still using the same supplies I started with all those years ago.
I have made a couple of concessions to technology. I now color my Sunday pages in Photoshop instead of using colored pencils. And I scan my strips and upload them to some sort of magical dropbox called Cyberduck instead of sending my original drawings to the syndicate via U.S. mail. Otherwise, though, I create the strip just the way I did when I started it back in ’91. I sketch it lightly in blue pencil, then do all the drawing, lettering, and shading by hand in ink. Part of that’s due to the fact that I’m a technophobe, but mostly it’s because I just like the way my stuff looks when it’s hand-drawn. And it helps me stay connected to the strip and the characters when I draw each panel individually, rather than use the copy/paste tool to replicate the same drawing time after time.
I’ve been very fortunate. In a day and age when newspapers are struggling and many cartoonists are losing clients, my work has been able to reach an entirely new generation of readers, thanks to a series of illustrated Big Nate novels published by HarperCollins. I wrote the first one in 2009, it came out in 2010, and suddenly – without really knowing what I was doing – I was known as a children’s book author. It was kind of terrifying at first, but I’ve since become more accustomed to the idea. I go on book tours, speak at schools and bookstores, and do signings at events like BookExpo America and New York Comic Con. I’ve attended the premiere of “Big Nate: The Musical” at Adventure Theatre in Glen Echo, Maryland. I’ve even been a guest on the Today Show for taking part in a successful effort to break the world record for the longest comic strip by a team. This highly unlikely mid-career turn of events has been a real blessing for my family and me, and I’m very grateful.
But I’m still a cartoonist, first and foremost, and the comic strip is my real love. Someday soon, I’ll stop writing the Big Nate novels. A book series can’t, and shouldn’t, continue indefinitely. Comic strips, though, are forever, and I’d like to keep mine going for a long time to come. I enjoy my work. I still get a kick out of coming up with good gags and storylines. It’s still a thrill to see my work in print every day. And it’s an honor to meet and become friends with so many other cartoonists whose work I admire.
Big Nate is sometimes described as a “kids’ strip,” and, even though I write it for readers of all ages, I don’t mind that label one bit. Childhood is when most of us first become aware of cartooning, and if my strip gets some young people interested in comics, I’m all for it. One of the joys of my life is getting letters from kids telling me – sometimes in words, sometimes in pictures – that Big Nate matters to them in some way. Which brings me back to how I started this blog. These kids aren’t people I know. Chances are I’ll never meet them in person. But they’ve taken the time to write to me and tell me a little bit about themselves. Isn’t that just another way of saying “Hello, stranger”?
Thanks for reading!
I always wanted to make comics, but couldn't draw. Here's how someone like that can get a career in comics for themselves.
I read comics while I was a kid: Archie comics, mostly. I lived in a rural village and there were no comic book stores, but the grocery store had Archie at the checkout, so that was what I read. One time – I still remember it, because it was a HUGE DEAL and it only happened once – my mom's hairdresser gave us stacks of her son's comics: tons of random issues of X-Men and Superman that we'd try to piece together to make larger stories out of. I loved them. I wanted to make them.
And like I said, I couldn't draw.
That – and the comics I could read in the newspaper – formed my complete experience with comics until I was a teenager. I graduated high school, I got an old car, and I got a job, and with my first paycheck, I walked into a downtown comic book store and bought some comics at random. I ended up grabbing some good ones: The trade paperback of The Dark Knight Returns was among them.
Saying my mind was blown is pretty fair. Comics were way more complicated than what I'd imagined from Archie. You could do all sorts of things with them. I bought more and more comics. I mailed them to high school friends who had moved away for university with notes that said things like "CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS?? COMICS ARE RAD, HOLY MOLEY." What I was discovering was that comics are a medium, not a genre. Anything you wanted to share, anything you wanted to show, you could do in comics. I wanted to do it all.
And again, I couldn't draw. But I had an idea for how I could hack around it.
The idea was this: What if there was a comic where the pictures didn't change, but the WORDS did? All you needed was to draw once, and you'd be set. You wouldn't NEED to draw, but it would still be images juxtaposed in deliberate sequence. It'd still be comics. So I sat down one Saturday morning and laid out what I was going to call Dinosaur Comics. It looked like this:
Then, I tried to write words for that comic. It didn't go well. This is as far as I got before I abandoned it, spelling mistakes and all:
My problem was, my layout didn't work. Characters appeared and disappeared at random and there was no visual story, just noise. I got frustrated, flipped a few tables, and when I set them upright again, I sat down and changed my layout, producing this:
There it was: a layout I could use. I wrote my first 10 comics in the space of three hours, and confident that I had a layout that would work for at least a few weeks, I put up my first Dinosaur Comics online. Three years later, it became my full-time gig. Almost a decade has gone by since then, and I've been rewriting my first (well, second) comic ever since:
It usually takes me about three hours to write a comic. This has been pretty constant after that first batch: three hours. Half an hour a panel! That's pretty slow, but it's not like I actually take 30 minutes to write each frame. Most of the time is spent rewriting, polishing, trying to get the comic to be the best comic it can be. Since dialogue (obviously) carries Dinosaur Comics, it has to be near-perfect, otherwise the illusion will break and you'll say "Hey, wait a minute! I'm reading a comic where the pictures don't change and I've been doing so for years?? WHAT KIND OF SHAM IS THIS??"
Doing Dinosaur Comics has helped me a lot in my non-Dinosaur Comics work, including writing for the Eisner-award-winning Adventure Time comics, as well as for Unbeatable Squirrel Girl from Marvel (released January 7th!). All this comes from jumping head-first into a visual medium where I had no visual skills, or, if we want to get all inspirational-essay about it, from approaching my own limitations as if they were opportunities.
Thanks for reading my comics!
Like many cartoonists, I’ve been drawing ever since I was a kid. Growing up, Charles Schulz’ work was a huge influence on me. I loved reading Peanuts and copying the characters. I was also influenced by The Far Side, Calvin and Hobbes and Garfield.
I started drawing single-panel cartoons right after I graduated from college. After a few months, I put together my 10 favorite cartoons and submitted them to the syndicates, with the hope of landing a development deal for syndication. I didn’t get the development deal, but King Features accepted a few of my cartoons for their syndicated feature, “The New Breed,” which showcased the work of “up and coming" cartoonists. The New Breed happened to run in one of our local papers, The Oakland Tribune, so I was able to see my cartoons in print, which was very cool.
A couple of years later, I started submitting cartoons to greeting card companies. After a few rejections, I finally had some success: Oatmeal Studios accepted three of my cartoons for publication. About a year later, I started licensing my work to Marcel Schurman (now Papyrus/Recycled Greetings). Today, I have greeting cards with three companies: Papyrus/Recycled Greetings, NobleWorks and Vash Designs.
I enjoy finding the humor in everyday life. Cartoon ideas are everywhere, even where you wouldn’t expect them. If I have a lousy day or if something bad happens to me, I sometimes stop and think, “Can this be turned into something funny?” Great ideas can come from that.
I jot down cartoon ideas in a sketchbook. It could be a fully formed joke or just a line I think is funny. Sometimes, I write down a joke and the next day I look at it and think, “This is terrible! What was I thinking?” I hate when that happens. If I’m on the fence about an idea, I show it to my wife. She has a good sense of humor and she’s also a good artist. If she laughs, I draw it. If she doesn’t, I scrap it. It’s an easy way to make a decision. I often send my wife texts like this:
Someone (I wish I could remember who) once made the observation that a comic strip is like a sitcom, and a single-panel comic is like stand-up comedy. I think that’s a great analogy. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve enjoyed stand-up comedy. For me, watching stand-up specials is a good way to get into a “funny” frame of mind. A few of my favorite comedians are George Carlin, Jim Gaffigan, Chris Rock, Louis CK and Ricky Gervais.
My two kids (6 ½ and 18 months) and my two cats (a smart one and a dim-witted one) also provide a lot of inspiration for comics. One of my cats often gets involved in the creative process by licking the side of the computer monitor while I draw. She’s pretty weird.
I grew up in Minneapolis in a large family (seven kids, close in age). I shared a room with three of my brothers, our beds tightly arranged around a single desk where we took turns doing our homework. Each of us had a drawer, and I kept mostly tablets, crayons and pencils in mine. Art was my escape into a world of imagination and stories. I read a lot, had glasses and buck teeth, found that being funny was the best defense (besides having five brothers) against being picked on at school. My dad managed a small foundry and was a great storyteller, and my mom ran the house and encouraged each of us to find our own niche.
I went to a Catholic boarding school, drew cartoons for the student paper and was a good student. After graduation I decided to join a religious community of priests and brothers, and I stayed almost 20 years. I mostly taught high school and used storytelling and art to entertain my students. In my mid-thirties I got into the grad program on a fellowship at the University of Missouri J-school, where the dean let me focus on the political cartoon and take art classes with Frank Stack, who, besides running the art department, was an underground comic book artist. I was hooked on cartooning as the most effective, compact and portable way to communicate important ideas.
My first job after J-school was at a daily newspaper in Topeka, KS, as newsroom artist, political cartoonist and book editor. I got married, became a dad, taught journalism at a small college in Atchison, KS, and ended up at the National Catholic Reporter, a feisty, independent publishing company in Kansas City, MO, as an editor, reporter and illustrator. I did the political cartoon below in 1991 and the illustration for NCR in 2005.
When Francis was elected pope in 2013, NCR publisher Tom Fox was so optimistic, he encouraged me to create a comic strip to celebrate this remarkable leader who was restoring hope to the Catholic church after years of paralysis and retreat from the reforms begun in the 1960s. It seemed at first a risky venture, but Francis has provided enough humor and surprises to keep my imagination in overdrive. I remind myself and others that my “Francis” is only a comic strip, perhaps short-lived as popes and comic strips go, but worth celebrating. The strip appears in NCR (ncronline.org) and, since March 2014, also on GoComics.com.
I love to draw, but I am short on technical skill above the level of line art and pencil shading. My work has the rough-draft look of an amateur. I am never satisfied with a finished piece, but I resist the urge to do it over. I am a work in progress. I admire artists who have real art training and can use line and wash to get subtle colors. If the strip survives, my goal is learn more so I can do some full Sunday frames in color. I pencil sketch, work up with Flair markers on a light table, digitize with a simple Epson scanner and finish in the Paint program on my PC.
Sustaining a strip based on a single character would be tough, so I created Brother Leo, a nod to an actual companion to St. Francis in the 13th century, to be the pope’s personal assistant. Leo started out as a kind of foil to generate comic situations. He is innocent and very literal, so wordplay and puns abound, though my goal is to use as few words as possible. Leo has caught on with my small audiences. Someone in the blog strings referred to him as “the little guy.” He became more real, even for me, and I now let him suggest the direction of the strip. Some readers think he is a putdown, but in fact (besides being a cartoon), he is the purest expression of the pope’s own values. Other characters will follow. I try to listen to my audience as the strip evolves.
The story line has emerged slowly from single three-frame gags to short series. I show everything to my wife, who doesn’t hesitate to say if she doesn’t get it (back to the drawing board) or she does, but it doesn’t work (BTTDB). For example, I did a strip in which Brother Leo, who thinks he needs to protect the pope, decides to taste all his food. He rejects the broccoli not because it’s poisoned, but because he hates broccoli (joke). My wife volunteers at a community garden where they try to get kids to eat vegetables, so she didn’t like the message. I changed broccoli to arugula. Still doesn’t work, she said. In the end I did three strips in order to redeem the message. I call it the “vegetable” series.
Another longer series follows when Leo brings home a stray dog that turns out to be female and pregnant. Imagine this, in the Vatican. Where there are puppies, more cartoons will follow.
People at NCR come up to my office and look at everything spread out on a table, make suggestions, give me ideas. Once I get an idea, I let it sit for a while. Often ideas come when I am drawing. I start something, change it completely or start over. Adding text is the hardest. I see many artists using computer fonts, which solves the spacing issues. Yet in classic strips like George Herriman’s fabulous “Krazy Kat,” the hand-written text is part of the composition. The whole thing casts a spell that simply enchants.
I draw at work in between other duties, and at home in the upstairs bedroom that our adult son reclaims when he comes home for visits. I like to be up high with windows. I waste a lot of time watching the squirrels in the backyard, but even they suggest cartoon ideas.
My photo will tell you that I am no beginner. I have come only gradually to try my hand as a comic strip artist after doing many other things to earn a living. I am grateful for the encouragement to come full circle almost at retirement age to fulfill a childhood dream of being a cartoonist.
“The Accidental Cartoonist”
I always knew I would spend my life being a writer, but I never ever considered being a cartoonist. I was the kid who was writing or reading every minute I was awake. I was the kid who finished my assignments and exams early in school so that I could get back to whatever I was reading or writing. I was the kid who found almost everything besides reading and writing to be boring and ridiculous and a waste of time.
I was that kid.
Unfortunately, I was that kid before the Internet arrived in our lives, so my access to really creative people was severely limited. I was not surrounded by creative people. I was surrounded by people with stressful day jobs and extra-income evening jobs who urged me to do whatever I wanted to do as long as it included getting an education and a job that paid a living salary.
So I got an education and a job. Usually I had many jobs at once, making money however I could make money. I became a lawyer because I figured being a lawyer would enable me to combine the two things I loved the most: writing and good deeds. Except that I called good deeds ‘advocacy.’ Good deeds are what you do when you’re a good person. Advocacy is what you do when you need to put your good deeds on your resume so you can get a better job.
For years and years, I worked as a lawyer, helping people to make their lives easier, better or more fair. I worked in the areas of disability and employment, making a difference I could actually see and a difference I cared about a little too much. At night I taught classes and tutored wannabe lawyers. In Washington DC, tutoring can easily support a fledgling law practice.
And I kept writing. I wrote essays and really bad books and blogs and anything I could get anyone to read. The Internet had come along by this point and now I had a platform. I built a crude website named after my cat Boo and I drove unsuspecting friends and family there to get feedback for my writing. Little by little, people I didn’t know began reading my writing, opening me up to the idea that you can find an audience outside of your known world. I started the process of learning what people enjoy reading. And I began writing for an audience that might someday buy a book filled with my words.
In 2006, I was working and writing and working and writing and working and writing. I was reaching a point of exhaustion – exhaustion borne of the idea that perhaps it would always just be me, working and writing around the clock without ever having an actual book for people to buy. In a fit of frustration, I decided to take an official break from writing and do some sort of creative cross-training. I signed up for an improv class at the local comedy club and quickly transitioned into stand-up.
So it turns out that stand-up is really just a variation on writing. You spend every waking moment of your life writing material. And laughing. To yourself. You write a ton of material and laugh to yourself and wonder if anyone else would laugh at what you just wrote. I loved stand-up. Unfortunately, almost all stand-up occurs late at night in places where people are drunk. I wasn’t very good at being part of that scene. I knew that stand-up couldn’t last long but I also knew that I loved writing humor for the sake of the punch line.
One day, in early 2007, it snowed on a Saturday. I was in the suburbs of Maryland, just outside of Washington DC. One Saturday a month, I did a workshop for people transitioning from crisis back to functioning. I helped them with legal issues and some of the other challenges that accompany hard times.
In Washington DC and the surrounding areas, even the mention of snow shuts everything down. And it was actually snowing pretty hard. So nobody showed up. It was just me, the social worker on duty, and a few others who tended to hang out at the center where we provided workshops.
The social worker pulled out art supplies and snacks while we hunkered down to wait out the snow. We drew flowers and houses and little stick-figure families. We weren’t artists, but we had snacks and crayons, so we were happy adult children.
I drew a stick-figure girl who I thought looked like me. She had a lot of hair and a really big purse. Then, in a moment of accidental creativity, I gave her a punch line. And I laughed because I always laugh at my own jokes.
The next day, I scanned the girl with the punch line and emailed the image to my small but loyal following of readers. They liked her and asked for more. So I kept drawing her. And I gave her more funny things to say. I drew her every day. And I created friends and family for her, mostly similar to my real life family and friends.
I created many, many cartoons for several years. I didn’t know how to draw, but little by little, I was learning. And I loved it. I loved my characters and my words and I loved the process. I posted cartoons wherever I could, paying attention to what people laughed at easily and what made them uncomfortable or angry.
And then, one day, an acquaintance who worked at the Washington Post asked me if I’d like to talk to the cartoon editor. I said YES, of course. The cartoon editor turned out to be Amy Lago.
By the time I met with Amy Lago, I had read every word she had ever written about editing and listened to every podcast for which she had ever been interviewed. I knew as much about Amy Lago as I possibly could know, which really wasn’t much. Mostly, I just knew that she seemed really smart, really cool, really open to finding new laughs, and really down to earth.
I brought a collection of cartoons to Amy Lago at the Washington Post. She never looked at them while we talked. I have no idea what we talked about, but I remember thinking she was the most amazing person I had ever met and that she had the coolest job in the world, working at the Washington Post alongside such talented writers and creative, smart minds.
Amy and I met in April of 2008. She told me that May was her busiest month and that I may not hear from her for a while. I was excited because she had suggested I might hear from her in the future. I was also dejected because I thought she was lying about May being her busiest month.
I walked straight from her office at the Washington Post to a coffee shop on the corner and turned on my computer. I researched the month of May to see why in the world May would be a cartoon editor’s busiest month. I pretty quickly found references to cartooning award ceremonies and events and realized that May is the Oscars Month for cartoonists. I called my mother to report that Amy Lago had not lied to me and that we might have another date in our future.
I heard from Amy Lago after the cartooning Oscars (otherwise known as the Reubens). She liked my humor. She believed I would learn how to draw eventually. She thought that words were important and that my poor drawing didn’t stand in the way of my words, necessarily. She loved my characters. She asked if I could put together a package of cartoons that was more cohesive, with characters whose relationships were more easily identifiable and, for lack of a better word, “followable”… .
I spent the next month obsessing about getting a package of 40 cartoons to be as perfect as possible. I delivered them to her and she invited me to keep sending her cartoons by email. I sent her a cartoon every day for months. She told me what was good and what to change. I edited and revised every single cartoon. She helped to develop my ideas into a comic strip that made sense.
On August 12, 2010, I was at work when I heard that Cathy Guisewite had announced her retirement. I immediately called Amy Lago who had heard the news only a few moments before I had. By that point, I had hundreds of cartoons ready to go. I was ready to go and a female cartoonist was preparing to leave a void in the world of female cartooning. I wanted to help fill that void.
I was signed on to the Washington Post Syndicate in October of 2010 and my cartoon began running in February of 2011, on Amy Lago’s birthday.
I will never be able to describe how much work it took to develop a comic strip. I worked day and night. In addition to my day job, I worked on the cartoon compulsively. I said no to everything, including family and friends. I lived for the cartoon, thinking about material every minute of the night and day. I thought of so much material that a second cartoon was born, a “lite” version of the strip. That version became syndicated in February of 2012.
I still lawyer by day, although I have very recently transitioned to a less-stressful lawyering role that I perform mainly at home. Basically, I review legal files and write legal documents all day long.
At night and on weekends, I write and draw my strip. And I practice drawing every single day. I’m happy to report that I’m getting better at drawing. Maybe one day I’ll take a drawing class, but I’m not in a rush to get formal art education.
Here are a couple of fun facts that really aren’t all that fun:
(1) I don’t read comic strips or cartoons because I don’t want to muddy my brain with other influences. A long time ago, I read Doonesbury and The Far Side to the point that I had memorized pretty much everything available from those creators.
(2) I write every single day, whether or not I want to. I write every single day because I have to or I feel all weird and crazy.
(3) I draw every single day, because I really enjoy drawing.
(4) I would continue writing and drawing cartoons even if I wasn’t syndicated. I love the vehicle of humor for communicating with other people.
(5) I’m still the biggest introvert in the world and I couldn’t get cabin fever if I tried.
(6) I’ve heard from haters who think I suck and should die. I learned how to ignore them since they don’t contribute in any way to my inspiration or motivation. And they’re rarely fun or funny.
(7) I love my followers and wish I could thank each one in person.
(8) I love Amy Lago in a way she should be seriously scared of.
(9) My top priority still is – and always will be – health insurance.
(10) I still have no studio. I live in Washington DC, where space is very expensive. I have a collection of folding tables I set up and take down every day, as needed. A tour of my studio would not be inspiring or impressive.
I hope anyone who reads my accidental cartoonist story takes away three things.
First, you cannot only do whatever you want to do, but you should be open to doing things you never planned or expected to do. It’s really cool to see where life takes you when you let it take you.
Second, anything worth pursuing is a total effing ton of work. There are no shortcuts and no such thing as overnight success.
Third, having a day job really helps to keep the lights on.
My first book should be out in February 2015. I’m really happy to have a book I can give to my mother. I’m still not sure she gets what I do with my time.
Thanks, Sam. This is your fault. Sam is my cousin, and I thought his Mad magazines were funny and cool. So I started buying them, too. I was maybe 13.
It wasn’t long before I drew a gag and mailed it to Mad, totally inspired by Sergio Aragonés, Antonio Prohías and Al Jaffee. Now, why did a sixth-grader think he could get published in Mad? I have no idea. Call it the naiveté of youth. Or no good sense.
An editor at Mad (I swear it was the legendary Al Feldstein himself) was nice enough to send a handwritten rejection letter. I recall being upset – how dare they! – but I distinctly remember the note: “Maybe someday, you’ll join the gang of idiots here at Mad.”
There was hope! Maybe someday …
I moved on to comic books (Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, John Byrne) and newspaper strips (Berkeley Breathed, Bill Watterson, Charles Schulz), devouring most everything I could get my hands on. In the meantime, I must have thought any company that printed comics was all right, so after attending the University of Texas (around the same time as Breathed, Michael Fry and Sam Hurt), I began working as a newspaper reporter. My crime stories appeared in the A section. Watterson appeared in the C section. Nice.
By the late 1990s, I was neck-deep in my journalism career, but my dream of creating comics was still alive. That’s when I called a professional buddy of mine – Carlos Castellanos – and pitched the idea of together launching Baldo. The strip would focus on a Latino kid who (taa-dah!) had an active imagination.
Write what you know, right?
The most exciting days of my life:
1. Getting married (you’re the best, Boo boos)
2. Birthdays of my kids (pass the cigar)
3. Getting a call from Universal Uclick that they wanted the comic (pass the tequila)
I’m always writing. I’m always reading. Ultimately, the collision of two ideas inspires me. And that can happen anytime. Pad/pencil/cell phone are always handy to jot/tap down/sketch out ideas. Then it all sorts itself out at my desk (or at Starbucks), where sketches, scripts and final art come together.
While coming up with ideas isn't easy, my goal with each strip is pretty simple: Deliver some kind of emotion (joy, anger, sadness, surprise, anticipation, the warm fuzzies).
There are way too few achievements to list them all here. But I do have another most exciting day to add to my list.
4. Opening the April 2014 edition of Mad magazine and seeing this on the letters page (a strip we did mentioning Sergio Aragonés):
Maybe not exactly the way Feldstein envisioned it, but close enough for me. Finally, after all these years, I was officially (if only for one issue) an idiot.
Most artists return from a prolonged sojourn in Paris with a new way of seeing things. Their art, their writing, their lives burst with deep insight and robust creativity. Their subsequent work points to an enriched philosophy that changes the artist and all who behold their wondrous, brave, challenging new experiments. Paris has made them better, and, in return, they have made the world better with their efforts.
I took pictures of signage with my smartphone.
Sorry about that.
But, when having to concentrate fully trying to grasp a new language and culture, even the things that make should sense, like signage, don’t. “What if I’m misreading this?” a middle-aged cartoonist spending a confusing year in Paris might ask. “That would be embarrassing, dangerous, or worse, force me to miss getting to the cheese shop for the six minutes it’s open every week,” a similar middle-aged cartoonist could be forgiven for thinking.
When I decided to take a year in France, I thought it would be fun to make a few drawings and doodles of what I saw. Inexplicably, the folks at GoComics thought it would be fun to post them. It certainly was fun, which is why I’m continuing with them after I’ve returned home.
From the very beginning, my stated goal in life was to be a syndicated cartoonist. When I was 5, I wrote to Charles Schulz (Peanuts) asking if I could have his job when he died. As fate would have it, syndication would remain out of reach while I struggled as a stand-up, then television writer and animator, and ultimately began publishing books for children. I am as happy as I am lucky that I get to spend my days writing for kids, and I take great pleasure in the struggle of finding ways to hide how much work goes into my books. My goal is for my work to seem fresh, as if it’s just been written and drawn, a task that involves a large amount of planning and preparation.
This is where the sketchbook comes in. If I am stuck (that is to say WHEN I am stuck) for a solution to a problem in one of my stories, I’ve discovered it is helpful to step away and do some doodling and sketching. Freed from the need to make useful drawings, I can instead allow my sketching to become playful. Usually, the solutions to those pesky problems can be found in loose sketching; that’s where the fun is.
I believe this is true not just for illustrators. I think drawing and doodling is a freeing experience for everyone. It allows the mind to wander, it engenders empathy (you have to think about the character you are doodling), but mostly: it is fun.
I’ve broken down From The Mo Willems Sketchbook into a regular pattern (for now).
On Mondays you can expect an abstract or pure experiment in color and shape. Our family lays a big piece of craft paper down on the dining room table and doodles every night (which I post on Wednesdays). It’s great fun, except for some guests who have “sketch-fright.” With a little encouragement (reminding them that there is no such thing as a “wrong drawing”), they take up their crayon and begin with small shapes and designs. In a word, abstracts. I love seeing their forms, and over the past year have enjoyed mucking about with color and shape myself.
Tuesdays and Thursdays feature drawings from the sketchbook. Particularly when I travel, I like to find a quiet spot and sketch those around me. While my drawings may not always seem flattering, I’m looking for the type of person and trying to figure out what makes them happy to be them.
Wednesdays are my dining room doodles, usually characters that arise spontaneously. Some of these characters may later find themselves in books. Elephant Gerald of the Elephant and Piggie early readers was born in a year-long series of evening sketches.
Fridays can be mislabeled photographs of signage (Photo Phridays), paintings I had fun making, or gag comix from my archives.
I hope you enjoy popping by and visiting my efforts. I’m excited when I hear of people doodling and drawing because of what they see on the strip. If one of those people is YOU, thank YOU. If not, please pick up a crayon soon and have a doodle. It’s fun.
If you’d like some more Mofo’, here are some videos and articles that can give you a background on myself and my work:
CBS SUNDAY interview with Rita Braver. A nice piece that chronicles my career, my work in theater, philosophy, and why Paris.
TODAY show interview with Al Roker. We had a blast doodling all over the place, plus Al gives a nice overview of my work.
A Rival for Pigeon (NPR's Morning Edition) A fun chat about Pigeon, Duckling, Death, and Why Parents are Cool.
Mo Willems is the go-to author for children — and their parents (Washington Post) A lovely feature piece about my work and career with great pictures of kids yelling.
Guilt for dinner: The MoWillems interview (Time Out Chicago) Fun interview on my writing philosophy.
Zena Sutherland Lecture: “Why Books” (Horn Book) A transcription of a speech I delivered in Chicago.
Seriously Funny (Northampton Gazette) My local paper writes one of the best features on me yet.
I get asked how I make my comics, so a good place to start in explaining that is to show you where I make my comics! (Really, my comic-drawing procedure is very easy to explain – I just wanted to show off here.) So, come on in! I'll give you the tour.
Let's start from the ground up, shall we? I found this desk on craigslist, and replaced the top with a heavy pane of frosted glass. There's a florescent light strip in the middle drawer, so I can turn my working area into a giant light box. It's pretty handy for tracing Tasmanian Devil cartoons.
On the right side are my sketch books where I draft my ideas, and draw dogs wearing sunglasses. I make a rough storyboard, and if the layout looks nice enough, I scan it and "ink" right over it. I use quotes there because I ink via a Wacom tablet and a handy program called Manga Studio, on that laptop you see there sitting on a copy of D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths. I always wear big headphones while I'm working. Music for the sketching and drawing portion, then maybe a movie or TV show in the background while I ink.
OK, now lets move up to that pretty wall, starting in the top left corner, moving left to right: a viking ship; an illustration by Robert Lawson from a page of The Story of Ferdinand; Witch Attacks by Will Cardini; a rendition of Robbie and Bobby as golden era cartoon stars, drawn by Austin Bedell; underneath that is a poster of Bear Quest 2 by Zach Taylor; in the absolute center is one of my favorite panels from 2816 Monument by Mark Luetke; left of that are a few pages of mine from current projects; underneath those is my drawing of my wife Julai riding a pterodactyl; to the right is a cut-paper portrait of a woman vomiting serif typeface, by Julai; next is a pixel art Mega Man made by Nick Meriwether and Misha Burgett; above that is a colored pencil Zelda tribute by Chris Sweet; and to the right of those is an embroidery of a half Brittany/half Austin wedding hybrid made by my friend Brittany Havican.
And that ends our tour. Thanks for stopping by! If you want to know more about how I make my comics, or any of the stuff you see on my desk, or whatever, drop me a question in the comment box.
Today we hear from Green Humour creator Rohan Chakravarty!
How did you begin your career as a cartoonist? When did you start cartooning?
Circa 1995: A brand-new TV channel is launched on Indian television and takes the kids of the country by storm. Everyone looked forward to the final ring of the school bell to rush home, but 1995 onward, there was this TV channel to rush home to! It may not have impacted the lives of my schoolmates as much, but it was well on its way to changing my life forever (the first “forever”. I’ll come to the second “forever” in a bit). I found myself not only engrossed in its shows, but also creating little stories of my own and adapting the characters of the TV shows I watched into my plots. Cartoon Network was here, and with it, cartooning had entered my life.
Fast forward to 2003: A friend of my dad brainwashes a 16-year-old me into believing that drawing cartoons is not a career option and that “grown-ups” must have “real jobs” like medicine, engineering and law. Dejected, I join the rat-race while cartooning is shut in a box locked up in the attic. Eventually, I make my way into a dental college, start filling and extracting teeth aimlessly and lifelessly, often secretly venting my frustration out on the dentures of my poor patients (fake teeth are real fun to punch!).
Moving on to 2005: I am on my first serious safari in Nagzira Tiger Reserve, Central India, and within twenty minutes of entering the gate, I behold a sight that would change my life forever (now this is the second “forever”) — a gorgeous tigress bathing in a waterhole. Females in bathtubs have changed the courses of many a plot in movies (remember Hitchcock’s “Psycho” and Kubrick’s “The Shining”?) and my life was no exception, just that the female in this case was a different species and this was no movie. This tigress had introduced me to a whole new, magical world that I had felt a sudden urge to represent on my canvas- wildlife.
It was after that trip that I started reading extensively about wild animals, their ways of life and the threats they face, and attempted to narrate them as cartoons and comic strips. Living in Central India — the land of the tiger — was an added advantage, as I had wildlife right at my doorstep (often literally!). Within a few months, the strips started getting noticed and debuted in the print as a part of Sanctuary Asia, a leading wildlife magazine published from Mumbai, India. In 2009, my brother (now a wildlife biologist) suggested that these cartoons needed a platform online, which led to the birth of my website www.greenhumour.com. In 2010, I finished my dentistry degree and the day I stepped out of college, I swore never to look back at it again! Over time, while I served as an animation designer for a multimedia firm in Bangalore (South India), I wrote and drew Green Humour in all my free time, which had started amassing a readership both online and in the print, finding itself a part of publications, magazines, journals and one newspaper as well. In December 2013, GoComics chose to syndicate Green Humour online, making it the first series of comic strips from India to be taken up by a major syndicate. This gave me the push and encouragement I needed to quit that darn day job and put all my time into drawing what I loved to draw the most: wildlife.
Drawing wildlife had given me a sense of creative contentment I had never experienced before and I realized that I, an introvert by all means, related better with animals than people. Green Humour also served a dual purpose — while I was having the time of my life drawing wildlife cartoons, it started getting the message of conservation across. Several readers got introduced to issues like poaching, habitat loss and climate change through my cartoons. The experience and the response so far have been gratifying.
What inspires you?
Obviously, wild animals. But inspiration is like a spam phone call that rings when you are least expecting it. Anything from a frog I meet on a trek to a puffin I read about on the Web could inspire a Green Humour panel or comic strip. Also, my late pet dog, Naughty, is responsible for giving me a sense of humour in the first place.
What are some of your achievements and accomplishments?
In March 2012, a cartoon from Green Humour won the first place in the UNDP and the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ cartoon contest on climate change in the Asia-Pacific. In November 2012, I was awarded the Sanctuary Asia Young Naturalist Award for my cartoons on conservation. Other than these, I have stood second in a national level cartoon contest organized by a leading Indian daily, and an international cartoon contest on the impacts of social media on people.
What were your favorite childhood comics? What comics do you read today?
Initial inspiration was drawn from cartoons on television, and comics happened a bit later. Watching cartoons on Cartoon Network felt like being tutored personally by the masters themselves — Hanna Barbera, Fred Quimby, Chuck Jones, and later Genndy Tartakovsky and Craig McCracken. I feel that if laughter had an SI unit, it would be Chuck Jones. E.g. “The other night I was watching Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner, and I ended up chuckling 120 KiloJones.”
Comics came into my life with Maurice de Bevere’s Lucky Luke and the series that has inspired so many cartoonists the world over — Gary Larson’s The Far Side. Bill Watterson, of course, is Bible, and the artwork in Patrick McDonnell’s Mutts is, to me, a masterclass in itself. I also thoroughly enjoy and am inspired by the work of Sergio Aragones, Mark Parisi’s Off the Mark and the cartoons of The New Yorker.
Do you have any upcoming projects or appearances?
I have always been fascinated by the world of animation, having worked as a pre-production artist myself for three years, and have been looking to combine the principles of character design with wildlife. This has led to the creation of a new sub-series that I call “Wildlife the Toonie Way,” which includes exaggerated and delightful representations of wild animals. I have recently had my first solo exhibition in Bangalore, India, where I displayed 70 of these caricatures, and the event was a bumper success. My upcoming projects include creating merchandise out of these caricatures and introducing them to newer avenues. I also have some interesting collaborations lined up with wildlife and conservation organizations from both India and abroad, to create awareness material with cartoons. Also, there are lots and lots of new comics on wild animals from all around the world coming up on the series.
What’s your studio/workspace like?
I’ve been on the run of late, so I’m just operating out of a shabby little desk. It has a window to the right, where crows, wagtails and barbets often perch in the mornings and narrate the scripts for my comics to me!
The first cartoon book I remember reading was a Pogo collection. It had a ratty, crimson-colored cover with frayed edges and a yellowed picture of Pogo on the front, doffing his hat to the reader. I didn’t get any of the jokes in the book, but I remember poring over the drawings and loving Walt Kelly’s artwork. When I was 8 years old, I remember being introduced to the French comic Asterix, and I immediately fell in love with Albert Uderzo’s artwork and Rene Goscinny’s writing – it was the perfect mix of humor, history and cartooning. I knew then and there I wanted to draw like that some day. The other book that had a direct impact on me was Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. It was the first superhero comic I read with a beginning, a middle and an end; I loved how Miller made it feel like a movie – that book showed me that a comic could convey depth of story and character. Those three comics – mixed with a healthy dose of history and mythology – are the primary influences on Kid Beowulf.
It would take a very long time for those influences to filter down into my work, though. My first foray into cartooning was comic strips, and I had dreams of being a syndicated cartoonist. I did a strip in high school and through college called Plato’s Republic, which I carried over to the Web in 1998 and would submit to syndicates. I did it daily for about five years; it was very much a hybrid of Doonesbury and Bloom County, but it never got any traction in the comic strip world, and I have countless rejection letters from syndicates to prove it.
Eventually, as my artwork and storytelling got better, I wanted to break out of the confines of the four-panel strip. That’s when I started to play around with comic books. I had a friend at the time doing a fantasy zine and he suggested I contribute a story. My tendency is always toward the classics, and I happened to be re-reading BEOWULF at the time. Somewhere along the way, it struck me as funny to imagine Beowulf as a kid, and before I knew it I started drawing a story about it. Kid Beowulf started life as a six-page zine – I never expected I’d still be doing it over 10 years and 600 pages later!
It took time for Kid Beowulf to find its legs – both in the writing and the drawing. I’m primarily self-taught, so whatever drawing style I have is born out of my limitations as an artist. I love the lush line-work of classic cartoonists like Walt Kelly, Albert Uderzo and Peyo, but I also admire the action storytelling of shows like Avatar: The Last Airbender. When the drawing days are good, I’m able to mash all those influences together, and hopefully, it comes across on the page.
I’m also very lucky to have a day job in the comics industry working at the Charles M. Schulz Studio (Creative Associates) in Santa Rosa, California. Located on the same campus as the Schulz Museum, the studio handles PEANUTS licensing, offering editorial and content direction to licensees worldwide. The studio is filled with artists, cartoonists, and sculptors, all of whom have great affection for Schulz’s legacy. One of the projects I’m involved in is the new series of PEANUTS monthly comic books from BOOM! Studios; I help put each issue together with editorial direction, and will occasionally write or ink a story.
My home studio is about a 10-foot walk from the back door of my house. I try to do some work every day, whether it’s writing, sketching, drawing or coloring, and my dog, Loki, always accompanies me to and from the studio. There are three books done so far in the Kid Beowulf series – the first of which is being colorized and featured on GoComics. I’m really excited to bring the series to a whole new audience – it’s certainly a different experience to read one page a day versus reading a book all at once, and I hope readers are enjoying the story.
My most recent work is stand-alone adventure from a new series I’m doing called The Kid Beowulf Eddas – these are short stories featuring the secondary characters in the KidB. Universe. The newest story is called “Shild and the Dragon,” and it’s the story of how the Dragon lost his eye and Old King Shild lost his hand. For those reading Kid Beowulf on GoComics, they may have remembered this scene, which inspired the new story…
Shild and the Dragon is available online and in print form.
Right now on my drawing table is the next Kid Beowulf Edda featuring fan-favorite, Holger (Hrothgar’s well-adjusted younger brother). After I’m done with the series of short stories I’ll rejoin twin brothers Beowulf and Grendel and begin the next chapter in the cycle. In addition to the new work, I’ve also begun a Patreon campaign, so if you are enjoying Kid Beowulf and want to see it succeed, this is the best way to show your support and get some behind-the-scenes goodies on the creation of the series. So stick around – the story is just getting started!
My name is Zach Weinersmith, and I draw the comic strip Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal (SMBC).
Those of you who read it know that it’s an incredibly nerdy comic. I pride myself on not actively trying to be dorky, but rather, letting the dorkitude flow forth of its own accord.
Although comics are my bread and butter, doing nerdy comics has led me on a lot of strange trips. The one I want to talk to you about now is something we started in 2013 called The Festival of Bad Ad hoc Hypotheses. BAHFest for short.
It all started with this comic:
After that comic ran, I half-seriously posted to Facebook asking whether anyone would come if we put on such an event. We got a huuuge response! I got in touch with Christina Xu of breadpig (my publisher), and she was gung-ho on it. So, we decided to design a real show.
Here’s the idea: Have you ever had a theory of evolution that was totally wrong, but yet explained a surprising amount of data? I had just such an idea last year when I came up with what I call Weinersmith’s Infantapulting Hypothesis. The theory is that, if you assume early humans catapulted babies into distant villages to spread their genes, a lot of baby morphology (smooth skin, mid-body center of mass, airfoil-like body shape) and baby behavior (closing mouth when feeling wind, not being very smart) make perfect sense.
We decided to see if other geeks could come up with similar theories by putting out an open call for terrible, but well-argued, ideas about evolution. To our delight, we got a huge amount of submissions. We were able to cull these submissions down to exactly six proposals that stood out.
I figured we could sell about 50 or 100 tickets for this dorktastic idea. Then, Christina got us a venue for 1,000. This was mildly terrifying, but we started promoting as hard as we could. To my utter astonishment, we managed to sell out on the night of the show.
Here’s my extended talk, explaining Infantapulting:
Here is the winner, Tomer Ullman, giving his brilliant theory of crying:
We were so pleased with the audience response that we decided to hold two events this year -- one in San Francisco, and one back at MIT. Instead of having my stupid face up there at the beginning of the show, we decided to institute an opening “keynote speech.” Since the most famous people I know are cartoonists, the keynote speech on the West Coast was by Matt Inman, creator of The Oatmeal, and the keynote speech on the East Coast was by Rob DenBleyker, co-creator of Cyanide and Happiness.
The craziest part is that it all started with a comic, where I proposed the baby-catapulting idea.