Welcome back once again True Believers, we are here once again broadcasting live from the vast Root Beer Party Estates in an undisclosed location in an undiscovered region of an unknown land. Today we have with us our good friend Bill Abbott of Spectickles comics which you can find here:
Spectickles reminds me of classic comics like The Lockhorns or Andy Capp, but with the fantastical elements of The Far Side. We follow a couple marked by their signature Spectickles at various times and places throughout history or even fantasy worlds. It is sort of a parable of sorts that throughout all of history and even art lies the same underlying fundamental relationship between two people. No matter what form creativity may take us, we are still social creatures trying to figure out how to live with one another.
Bill brings us a great tribute to that ultimate relationship we call marriage, and we follow it throughout the infinite characters and timelines of history to understand that the true root of making a relationship work is at it’s very heart, humor. In a single panel, Bill reminds us of that fundamental truth. So let’s sit down and get to know the man of the hour: Bill Abbott
1. What got you started in doing a comic series?
My cartoon Spectickles evolved over time – it wasn’t so much started with a specific intent such as making it a series, as it was drawing the goofy ideas that wander around in my head like it was Grand Central Station on dollar beer night.
2. Who was your greatest influence?
There were quite a few, really, and not all necessarily cartoonists. Jim Unger, Charles Schulz, and Mike Peters from the comics pages, and Mort Gerberg, Mischa Richter, Charles Saxon, and Robert Weber from the New Yorker. Just stunningly brilliant. I find the writings of H.L. Mencken and Mark Twain really inspiring and very, very funny – if you haven’t read, “Innocents Abroad”, you’ve missed out on something extraordinarily humorous.
3. What is your favorite root beer, and why?
It would have to be A&W – a family favorite from when I was a kid – root beer floats in the Adirondacks.
4. What do you hope to accomplish with your comic?
There’s nothing more rewarding to me as a cartoonist than to see someone chuckle or laugh at my work, then feel compelled to share it with someone else. That’s an amazing feeling that’ll never grow old. In the professional sense, I’m blown away I’ve gotten as far as I have, to be honest.
5. Do you have any other artistic interests outside of comics?
I’ve always wanted to do more illustration work. I never grow tired of flipping through books filled with the art of Arthur Rackham, Charles Dana Gibson and others from the Golden Age of illustration. It may be somewhat anachronistic now and have very few market outlets, but that’s the type of work I’d really love to spend time developing and practicing. I’ve played guitar for many years and have been teaching myself some classical, although the quality of my playing is enough to scare children and small dogs.
6: Do you see yourself as a professional cartoonist, or is this just something you do for yourself?
I don’t really think of it that way – it’s just something I love doing. Although when deadlines loom large, I tend to love it a bit less.
7: What type of subject or humor do you consider out of bounds for your strips and why?
It’s a matter of personal taste and viewpoint, but for me, I give everything the Grandmother Test. My grandmother was a wonderful woman with a great sense of humor. She had a specific set of values that were imbued in our family and guided our behavior and conduct. If I wouldn’t show the cartoon to my grandmother, it doesn’t get drawn. I know that’s not for everyone, but it is for me, and the people who follow my work.
8: What kind of equipment or style of drawing do you use?
Until very recently, I drew on Strathmore Bristol board with an old Rotring mechanical pencil that’s heavy enough to be used for a Medieval bludgeoning device of mortal destruction, and an even older Pelikan fountain pen with an M250 medium nib – really a pleasure to draw with. But due to the demands of producing 2 daily cartoons for syndication, I’ve switched to all digital to speed up the process. I have the Surface Pro 5 which is really great, and use the Clip Studio Paint Pro drawing program. I’m far from having perfected drawing digitally, but I’m slowly figuring it out.
9: what sort of training or academic program did you pursue to become a cartoonist?
If you take a pen, a blank sheet of paper, close your eyes and let the pen wander aimlessly over the page for about an hour, you would have a reasonable facsimile of the path I followed to becoming a cartoonist. I actually spent all of my adult life in the military – 24 years total deploying frequently, which is a pretty tough way to launch a career in the comics. But I’m fortunate that the stars aligned and this is ultimately where I’ve ended up – pursuing something I’ve had a lifelong passion for – cartooning.
10: What has been the highlight of your cartooning career?
That’s a tough one – there’s so many events that I didn’t see coming which have made this experience pretty amazing. The first time I received a call from a greeting card company to license some of my cartoons was a big one. Getting syndicated was definitely huge. The group that have assembled to spend time on my Facebook page is a big-time highlight – really an extraordinary group of very kind, and very funny people – some of their comments are funnier than my cartoons they’re commenting on!
11: What has been the lowest point in your cartooning career?
I would have to say it was the first time I received a rejection slip for my work. When you’re first getting started it’s sometimes hard to see that it’s not a rejection of you personally, and maybe not even your work if it’s a case of bad timing – it’s just a necessary part of professional cartooning. But it’s tough the first time one shows up in your inbox.
12: Are collections of your work available beyond the web? If So where?
There are a couple – there’s a Spectickles cartoon collection that was published by Willow Creek Press, which is available on Amazon, and a Percenters collection with my earlier work, also available through Amazon.
(you can find it on amazon Here:
13: Are there any other web comic artists that you really admire?
Tons. I really enjoyed listening to the Webcomics Weekly podcasts put out by Scott Kurtz, Kris Straub, Dave Kellett, and Brad Guigar, which is how I was introduced to their work. I don’t follow any now with regularity, but I’m blown away by the talent that’s out there and the creative way they’ve broken away from the traditional comics model.
14: What kind of impact has cartooning had on your life and could you ever see yourself not doing it?
Enormous. I’ve had the opportunity to sit down and talk with my heroes – people whose work I have great admiration for, and never once did they seek a restraining order or try to pepper spray me in the face. So far. It’s been the perfect creative outlet for me, a form of art therapy, and I’ve been fortunate that it’s been financially rewarding as well.
15: Do you have any advice for the trolls out there who harass content creators? (no need to keep this answer clean.)
Yes. Life is waiting for you outside your Mom’s basement. Put on some pants, put down the game controller, ascend those creaky old stairs and experience life for yourself rather than acting as a virtual peeping tom in the lives of others. It’s creepy. Just stop it.
16: Do you set yourself any deadlines or other tricks to keep yourself motivated?
Because I have to produce two daily gag panels for syndicates, I can’t really afford to miss deadlines. I find that if I get my writing done early in the day and the drawing/coloring and other stuff after that, I can stay on top of the work.
17: Apart from root beer, what is your favorite drink?
In the words of H.L. Mencken, I’m ombibulous. I enjoy wine, so I drink Cabernet. I also like cigars with which a good single malt scotch or good Cognac fits the bill, and much to the chagrin of my wife, I drink too much Diet Coke because I just love the stuff.
18: Are you already a member of the root beer party and if not, what is the matter with you?
I believe I am, but I wouldn’t blame you if you changed the locks on the place when I wasn’t looking.
19: What is the most challenging aspect of cartooning for you?
Not settling on putting out mediocre work just to meet a deadline rather than give the best I’ve got. When you’re facing a deadline, it can be tough, but I never want to allow myself to cross that line.
20: What are your future plans involving web comics or anything else going on in your life?
Cartooning-wise, I’d love to get one – even just one, into the pages of The New Yorker. That’s been a life-long goal which has eluded me thus far. Outside of cartooning, I want to buy a boat just big enough to live on for short periods of time and make it my floating studio as I navigate the Great Lakes, canals and rivers in the northeast. Oh yeah – and rule the world. With my wife’s permission, of course.
So there you have it True Believers, another look behind the curtain into the making of all your favorite comics. We’d like to thank Bill Abbott for coming all the way out here to the vast Root Beer Party Estates, but he has spent much of his life deployed to distant lands, so he knows the role and perils of life as a cartoonist well. So let’s have a look at more of Bill’s work:
Be sure to join us again True Believers as we meet more of your heroes of The Root Beer Party and as always, until next time, may your mug always be frosted and your root beer always foamy.