The GoComics “Meet Your Creator” series brings you firsthand insight into the lives and careers of your favorite cartoonists. Each week, we hand over the keys to one of our talented creators, who share their inspirations, achievements, creative processes, studios and more! Read on to hear from this week’s featured cartoonist: Carl Skanberg of That New Carl Smell.
Let me explain. I have noticed how “Carl” is a funny name to a lot of you: Commercials, TV neighbors, blue-collar nobodies, Gary Larson comics, idiot relatives, dopey cops. Basically, when a writer is thinking of the dullest, most unimpressive, dumb-guy name, “Carl” is a common choice. I’ve noticed. Don’t think I haven’t noticed. But I’m taking it back! I decided to name all of the dumb guys “Carl” in my comic. I’m going to saturate the comedy market with Carl. Someday, it’ll be uncool to make jokes about Carl. I mean, unless your name is Carl, like me. Then it’ll still be cool. Clearly.
I was four years old, drawing pictures at my Grandma’s kitchen table, and I made a picture of a worm on roller skates. A short time after that, the Chicago Sun-Times published a Ziggy cartoon of a worm on roller skates. Everyone was blown away. “Holy cats, Carl has the potential to be a real cartoonist! He drew his roller skate worm before Ziggy!” I felt pretty good and I learned an important lesson that day: Being a newspaper cartoonist is as easy as drawing a worm on roller skates that you saw on Sesame Street. Until now, I never spoiled the myth about my worm on roller skates originally appearing on Sesame Street. Making a living with doodles from the kitchen table may be a myth, as well.
I have a really bad doodling habit. If you see me in a social setting and I look awkward, it’s because I don’t know what to do with my hands and brain without a pencil and paper in my hand. All through my school days and into my life as a grownup, everyone knows me as the guy who is always drawing. I work in the printing and marketing industry, but I have a job that has very little to do with doodling. I’ve worked for the same fine company for more than 18 years. I’m 40 years old, I’m married, I have four kids and did I mention I’m a fully grown man with a sketchbook? I ride the rush-hour train, in the big city of Chicago, and I openly draw pictures of funny cartoon animals and interestingly shaped people, for no good reason.
My first newspaper comic strip was published in Illinois State University’s student paper. It was a simple comic featuring a bear and bird and some other animals. There was no big concept. The bear and bird told a ton of bad jokes and got punched in the face a lot. The cartoon was named Best Cartoon or Panel by the Illinois College Press Association in 1996. I drew it for a couple years at school and for a semester after graduation. People seemed to like it, but the comic syndicates had very little interest. I decided to end that strip and attempt a new comic that might catch the eye of a newspaper syndicate. Every year between 1998 to 2005, roughly one new fully realized comic idea was rejected by all newspaper and syndicate professionals who saw my work.
My friends and coworkers continued to enjoy these unpublished comics, so I decided to create a webcomic for this smaller group. The Chicago White Sox had just won the 2005 World Series and everyone was pretty excited about it. My new cartoon became a serial comic strip story that followed the ups and downs of the White Sox throughout the 2006 season. I cast the White Sox as a band of pirates who battled other pirate crews (the Pittsburgh Pirates were a baseball team) on their quest for more gold. Before the real White Sox got out of spring training, I was contacted by a local newspaper in the Chicago suburbs, and they wanted to run my comic in their sports section. Around the same time, the VP of acquisitions at Universal Press Syndicate contacted me to ask if I’d ever thought about creating a comic for syndication. I said, “Yes. I’ve thought about it. In fact, I have a bunch of rejection letters on your letterhead.” He said, “Well. The White Sox aren’t popular enough for syndication, but keep me in mind as you come up with other things.”
I followed the White Sox, in serial story mode, for three seasons. After they were pirates, they were space travelers in 2007 and they were a Quixotic band of knights in 2008. I self-published a book with these comics in 2009, and quickly sold all of them. Beyond the White Sox stories, the newspaper published my weekly panel, “Smells Like Mascot,” to cover all Chicago sports. In 2013, the local suburban newspaper eliminated most of their budget for unique sports content, and “Smells Like Mascot” went with it. I soon started creating a daily non-sports comic panel for a general audience, and I got back in touch with my friend at Universal Press Syndicate. He thought the new comics were a good fit for GoComics, and That New Carl Smell was born.
On a side note, I was the Illinois State University mascot, Reggie Redbird, for a couple years. I know the smell of a mascot. The smells sticks with ya.
The recent stretch of seven years as a newspaper cartoonist was good for consistency and sticking to deadlines. Creating a webcomic is the opposite. I’d like to thank all of the people who follow my work at GoComics, and I apologize for going into weird patterns. The first few months of That New Carl Smell was a daily comic that would fit in a newspaper, but it was not in a newspaper. So, then, what the heck is a webcomic? There was a stretch when the comic was drawn on 4” x 6” cards and I physically mailed them to friends, as postcards, because I thought it was most important for friends to have tangible art. Then, I painted some comics with acrylic paint on wood, and some in watercolor, and some in gouache. I’ve taken a lot of photos of my comics, rather than scanning them, to take a step away from the digital version of the art. I hope all of these experiments are more entertaining than annoying. Thanks for sticking around. I have not figured it out, yet. And I don’t think I can kick my doodling habit.
My workspace is wherever I can find it. This is my kitchen table, with my kids.
Read That New Carl Smell here. Follow Carl on Twitter here. And, check out Carl’s blog.