We are back once again True Believers with another entry into our world famous segment: 20 Questions with Comic Artists. The Root Beer Party has been growing by leaps and bounds over on our Facebook page and one of our newest members sat down with us to tell us all about the magic behind the scenes of his comic. You can read it for yourself here: http://www.gocomics.com/next-door-neighbors/2017/01/02
So pop open a bottle of your favorite root beer and settle in for a peek at a comic genius at work.
1. What got you started in doing a comic series?
The sheer love of the medium. I grew up with it…absorbed it…and always wanted to do it. I pitched a lot of properties to the syndicates over the years, and finally, NDN got their attention. It was, in fact, my 8th pitch over 25 years – and a reboot of my 4th pitch years prior. How’s THAT for tenacity? The Deweys have been rolling around my noggin in some form or another for 20 years, and the material was really already there.
2. Who was your greatest influence?
Wow…there are SO many, it’s hard to limit it. But I would have to start with Charles Shultz. I adored Peanuts and always will – to me, it was perfect. After Peanuts, it would be Doonesbury and The Far Side.
Another huge influence was Johnny Carson. Yeah, you probably don’t hear that very often, but I LOVED The Tonight Show, and I used to transcribe his monologues from a cassette recorder into a notebook when I was a kid. Clearly, I didn’t have much of a social life…:)
That said, I’ve been very, very fortunate to have highly influential people in my life over the years. In the late 60’s, my mom used to work for The Akron Beacon Journal, and I managed to get the opportunity at the ripe old age of 10 or 11, to start hanging around their art staff on Saturdays. I mean, think about it, these seasoned artists were allowing me to watch them work and the learning experience was incalculable. In particular, Chuck Ayers – soon to be full-time editorial cartoonist there, and later, the artist on the comic strip Crankshaft with Tom Batiuk (another influence) and illustrator Art Krummel took me under their wing when they really didn’t have to. They clearly had work to do, and it may have been glorified baby-sitting, but they allowed this little kid to hang around every weekend and watch what they do. I learned SO much from them, not the least of which was what vending machines in the building had the best snacks. All kidding aside, that experience was life-changing for me.
3. What is your favorite root beer, and why?
The gold standard, baby.
4. What do you hope to accomplish with your comic?
Interesting question…First and foremost, to entertain myself. There are just certain things…conventions…characters…storylines etc…that make me crack up, and I like to get ’em down on paper. If others enjoy it. that’s the icing on the cake.
5. Do you have any other artistic interests outside of comics?
Yes, I have a band, The Rhythm Syndicate, and we’ve been playing around the Cleveland area for close to 20 years. We do blues, swing, jazz, soul and we have 2 cd’s out. It’s an excellent way to break from the art stuff. If you’re ever in town, and we’re playing, stop out and say hi! I’ve also been a huge collector of comics over the years as well as baseball cards (50’s Bowmans).
6: Do you see yourself as a professional cartoonist, or is this just something you do for yourself?
Definitely both. I’ve worked as a cartoonist in the social expressions field for over 34 years both as a designer and in art direction, and I’ve created/written/art directed or drawn thousands of cards. I’ve also sold cartoons in the magazine field (Playboy, Wall St. Journal, Woman’s World and others etc.) and I’ve illustrated a few children books with Lerner Publishing in Minneapolis, most with writer Brian Cleary. Prior to that, in college I was the editorial cartoonist at The University of Akron newspaper, The Buchtelite – another very critical experience that taught me – very early on – what deadlines were all about…lol!
Question 7: What type of subject or humor do you consider out of bounds for your strips and why?
I’m pretty wide open as long it’s funny and make sense with the characters. My style of humor leans a little dark or caustic, so I’m probably more liberal in that area, anyway. It’s really more about whether the subject matter warrants attention – can I write it in a way that’s true to the character. That’s huge for me.
I like anti-characters…side characters…the kind of characters that fascinate me are riddled with flaws of some kind. I could find far more material in, say, an angry, loudmouthed, failed dogcatcher who lives with his mom and works a part-time job as a rodeo clown, than a very nice, 30-something couple with a beautiful house and two cute kids. But that’s just me.
Someone once told me my characters needed to be more likable, but I’m not so sure about that. Flaws are funny. You can have a character that’s unlikeable and they’ll still have a human side…a relatable side…and in any event, with a comic strip, the characters evolve over time, so I think it’s somewhat myopic to assume that they’ll stay static over the life of a property (and no one knows what the life of a property will be while it’s extant).
Question 8: What kind of equipment or style of drawing do you use?
Oh, man, I’m pretty old school. Pigma pens and bristol board. I work on a light board off of very tight roughs , then I scan the inked version, and do the coloring in p-shop. Pretty basic. I’m a creature of habit, so it works for me…although, I have to say, a Cintiq looks very tempting. I write endlessly, and for the most part, I write in steno pads (Field Notes brand – great paper) and only with 7mm HB/lead Bic pencils, which I also use to create the roughs I work off of. I can’t write or draw with anything else…it’s weird…Wapner at 5, and all that, y’know?
Question 9: what sort of training or academic program did you pursue to become a cartoonist?
I got a BFA in Graphic Design at the University Of Akron (’83), but outside of some elective courses, there really wasn’t a cartooning curriculum of sorts. You kind of had to make your own way in that regard – so that, and aside from absorbing the medium growing up, I’d say 4 years of doing editorial cartoons for the school newspaper, The Buchtelite, really helped from a self-discipline perspective…the training is disciplining yourself to write…to ideate…to tell a story or develop a character…in real time, on deadlines…that’s where the real training process occurs. I think anyone can create stuff if you have, say, a year to do it, but work under any kind of consistent deadline, and you’ll find out quickly what you’re made of.
Question 10: What has been the highlight of your cartooning career?
Every day is a highlight. I know – lame answer, but I really don’t know how to do anything else but cartoons and design work. I’d be out of luck otherwise. I’m not even very good at hanging stuff on a wall. As an aside, whenever I’ve been asked what I do for a living, I’ve always said, I do what I did when I was ten, but I don’t have nuns hitting me. So, that’s kind of a nice bonus.
Question 11: What has been the lowest point in your cartooning career?
I don’t know about low points necessarily, but rejection slips/letters/notes certainly qualify.
Question 12: Are collections of your work available beyond the web? If So where?
Well, I’m definitely going to be bundling a book of NDN together – my big ‘project’ for 2017…
Question 13: Are there any other web comic artists that you really admire?
Definitely…I’m more of a fan than anything, and I have quite a few that I enjoy…favorites include Cathy Law (Claw), Danny Fry (Vigo The Vampire), Amanda El-Dweek (Amanda The Great) , Will Henry (Wallace The Brave), Brad Perri (Pirate Mike), Bob Scott (Molly and the Bear), Steve Ogden (Magnificatz) Dan Thompson (Harley and so many others) Ian Jones (Bushy Tales), Scott Ebisch, Eric Lance Scott (Breaking Dad, 1 and Done), Mark Stokes, (Zombie Boy), Jim Horwitz (Watson), Tim Jones (Sour Grapes), Jose Sepi (My Son is a Dog), Eric McCurdy/Mark Lester (Experiment 42), James Boyd/Saad A (Sunnyside Up), Mike Wilke (Watermelon Bones), Charles Brubaker (Ask A Cat/Fuzzy Princess), Dan Collins (Looks Good on Paper), Wayno (Waynovision), Dee Parsons (Life with Kurami), Ambrose Quintanilla (Life & Times), Mike McDonald (Cat and Cat), Jason Curtis, Mert Art (Sunday Morning Funnies), Steve McGinn, Larry Warren (Cooper)…I know I’ve missed some favorites – there’s just SO much great stuff out there.
Question 14: What kind of impact has cartooning had on your life and could you ever see yourself not doing it?
Cartooning is everything to me as an artist. At the end of the day, it’s all I know how to do! So, I could never see myself not doing it – only doing it more.
Question 15: Do you have any advice for the trolls out there who harass content creators? (no need to keep this answer clean.)
They’re a fact of life on the internet and social media, unfortunately. It’s everywhere, and it’s tough to ignore, but you have to. Engaging may be the worst thing you can do, because it validates the attention they crave.
Question 16: Do you set yourself any deadlines or other tricks to keep yourself motivated?
I’m always writing…jotting stuff down…so that really never stops. Deadlines are all the motivation I need. I’ve learned that in every aspect of my working life.
Question 17: Apart from root beer, what is your favorite drink?
Diet Dr. Pepper. I think it tastes better than regular…I could guzzle the stuff all day.
Question 18: Are you already a member of the root beer party and if not, what is the matter with you?
I am not, nor have I ever been, a member of the root beer party – but I’m willing to join.
Question 19: What is the most challenging aspect of cartooning for you?
Ideas and writing. That’s pretty much it. Writing is such a focused discipline that it requires an almost constant vigilance. Sometimes a simple word can make all the difference in the understanding of a gag, and I can spend the better part of a day gnawing on it. Not kidding. Or, I’ll have 2-3 different ways of saying the same thing and get caught up in the mechanics of it. I probably sound crazy…LOL.
The comic strip medium is like writing a novel and only being allowed to publish one or two sentences a day. Think about that. Your readers get only a tiny piece of the overall story each day (or whatever cadence the property is being published on) and whatever plans you have for your characters…whatever storylines you’re thinking of…have to be doled out in tiny fragments. That’s a pretty interesting tightrope act.
Question 20: What are your future plans involving web comics or anything else going on in your life?
I’m one of those guys whose brain never shuts off, so I have tons of ideas…I’ve been developing other characters for NDN, and that keeps me busy – Norm’s mom showed up over the holidays and she’s been a lot of fun to work on, so she’ll likely have a more prominent role in the future.
(And now a word from our sponsor:)
And there you have it True Believers, another entry into the Root Beer Party archives and a look behind the scenes at one of todays top comic artists. So go check out his comic and pester him to put out a collection soon, and as always may your mug always be frosted and your root beer always foamy.