Celebrating the 30th anniversary of Luann this month, we’re sharing a fun, insightful Q&A from creator Greg Evans, and his daughter, Karen, who is the inspiration behind the comic strip. Enjoy!
Greg and Karen
First, we hear from Greg:
Trends, technology, values and ideas have evolved greatly throughout the past 30 years. How have you managed to keep Luann relevant every step of the way?
GE: I'm not sure I always have. My characters don't spend nearly enough time with their noses in their mobile devices. And fashions – where are the skinny jeans? Also, because of advance deadlines, comic strips often seem out of sync with current events. I rarely depict newsworthy people and events in Luann. I worry that I'll send in a strip about Justin Bieber, and then he'll get hit by a bus. But, I constantly strive to assure that Luann seems up-to-date and doesn't become a fossil, like her creator.
What has been the most challenging part of drawing/writing/creating Luann?
GE: As my style has evolved from cartoony to more real, the drawing has become increasingly challenging. I'm not a facile draftsman and I make lots of mistakes. This used to require tedious applications of Wite-Out. Then, 8 years ago, I began drawing digitally on a Wacom Cintiq and discovered a wonderful thing: I could assign a button to "undo." As for writing, it's a challenge to keep the characters interesting as they age into young adults. Luann herself tends to be a bit dull because she lacks any extreme quirks as compared to characters like Tiffany, Crystal, Knute and Gunther.
And while it's natural to want characters to grow and mature, there's a danger of evolving a character from interesting to boring. Once you begin erasing flaws, you risk losing the fun. This is an ongoing dilemma. A similar problem arises with romance. The interesting stuff happens at the start. Once a couple couples, where's the intrigue? Humor resides in conflict. If everyone's pleasant and happy? Yawn.
What has been the most rewarding part of drawing/writing/creating Luann?
GE: That I don't have to shave, dress and commute. No, honestly, it's the devotion of the fans. I can't believe how passionately invested they are. It's gratifying to know that my work provides a forum for people to engage, speculate, debate and, of course, critique.
You have an extremely active community of commenters online. How does this affect your work?
GE: I look at the number of comments each day because I'm curious about how each strip fares. And I might read the first few. But I don't read them all – they can often be quite distressing. Also, I don't want fans' opinions to influence my stories – although they sometimes do. I have to keep in mind that there may be lots of commenters, but they represent only a tiny fraction of total readership.
After 30 years, do you ever find it difficult to come up with new ideas and storylines?
GE: You'd think that after three decades of dipping into the well, I'd now be scraping out dust. But, the opposite's true. The characters have grown in their complexity and that replenishes the well. I have more story ideas than I know what to do with.
What can readers expect in the future?
GE: I hate to admit this, but in 30 years of doing the strip, I never thought much past lunchtime. Now that my daughter Karen is helping with plotting, we actually have detailed scenarios for the future. Which is great because we're sprinkling current storylines with seeds that will blossom down the road. And trust me, some of these blossoms will be awesome. People ask me if I'm planning to retire. Are you kidding? I have at least another couple of decades of stories to tell. I can't wait to show you what's going to happen next!
And now, let’s pass the microphone to Karen …
What’s it like having a comic strip based on your life?
KE: First, I do get called “the real Luann" a lot when people find out. Which is a wonderful compliment, if not quite accurate. While I may have inspired the idea for the strip, and Luann and I have things in common, I have always felt she is someone I have grown up with, rather than ME. It probably helped that she was 13 when the strip started and I was only 5. And that my name isn’t actually Luann.
Has your dad ever mentioned anything within the strip relating to your personal experiences that you wished he hadn’t?
KE: The No. 1 storyline that people wonder about is from 1991, when Luann got her first period. This was a huge deal and my dad worked hard to make this a meaningful, and publishable, story. Part of that preparation included getting my blessing. I was 12 at the time and thought it was a great idea. My friends at school all knew what my dad did for a living, and I didn't think they would make it weird for me. And they really didn't —or they were just too embarrassed to!
My dad is an observant man, but also careful to keep the Luanniverse separate from the lives of his family. Looking forward, Dad and I have talked about how Luann and crew might tackle some other important concerns teens and young adults face. The real challenge is the medium: Newspaper comics are pretty PG.
As you become more involved with the creation of the strip, what are you most excited/nervous/surprised about?
KE: My dad makes it look easy, but now I know that crafting engaging storylines, balancing a large cast of characters, being funny 365 days a year, and somehow fitting that all into a few small boxes each day is quite difficult. My first attempts were too wordy, too complex and generally not funny. However, I think my dad and I were both surprised at how quickly our creative processes meshed. He is the artist, but I am strong at visualizing. I am the “big picture” planner, but he sees the humor each day. He knows his characters as the creator, I as a reader. We work together daily to drafts plans, refine storylines, and then hash out what, exactly, the characters will say and do in those few small boxes. Writers often comment about how characters "tell" them what to do or "make decisions" of their own, and it’s true! Luann and the whole cast are like real people who sometimes surprise my dad and me by rebelling against our plans or suddenly developing in ways we didn't expect. I am excited to see the characters continue to grow into young adulthood, to see our fan base continue to grow online and to explore fresh ways to tell a great story!
Read Luann here.