Welcome back True Believers, We are here again live from the Official Root Beer Party Studios with another one of our world famous 20 questions interviews. Today we have with us, proud Root Beer Party Member and syndicated comic legend Ray Billingsley of Curtis who just celebrated his 30th year in publication.
30 years at the top of the industry is an amazing achievement. Ray is not only a legend in the comic industry, but he is also a renowned humanitarian and advocate for his work in rising awareness for lung disease.
You can check out Curtis on his official page here:
Ray has taken time out of his busy schedule to fly all the way out here to the vast Root Beer Party Estates in an undisclosed location, in an undiscovered region of a long lost country to give us a peek behind the curtain into the inner working of how all of our favorite comics are made. So let’s meet the man behind the legend Ray Billingsley:
Question 1: What got you started in doing a comic series?
I’m not really sure what got me into doing a series. I was brought up under the strict thumb of my father. He did not believe in giving allowances and what money he gave you had to really work for it. I was pretty much a solitary kid, not fitting into the group of people I grew up around, so I spent a lot of time alone. I have an older brother who liked to draw and his materials were all over the bedroom we shared. So I picked up a pencil and some paper and started drawing. It’s all I did. Then at a young age I discovered there were those who paid for artwork. I was extremely lucky to be discovered on the streets of New York and my career blossomed from there. I have done no other job in my life other than drawing.
Question 2: Who was you greatest influence?
Wow, I had a lot of major influences-Jules Feiffer, Hank Ketcham, Mort Walker, Will Eisner and of course, Charles Schulz. But I can’t tell you just who was the greatest. I admired several artists.
Question 3: What is your favorite root beer and why?
Favorite root bear?? I suppose A&W. I remember it was the only root beer sold at the local neighborhood store where I grew up.
Question 4: What do you hope to accomplish with your comic?
With my comic, I hope to accomplish a place for my work and to be considered within the ranks of one of the Greats. There were several before me but I wanted to add a little something called ‘diversity’, a theme that is usually overlooked or intentionally ignored. I’m going for longevity as since I started at a much younger age than most, I may have a career that spans way beyond most cartoonists.
Question 5: Do you have any other artistic interests outside of comics?
My artistic interests are many. I like art in galleries, museums and digital art as long as it’s creative. I like those who can offer a different uniqueness. I like the horror genre and put that interest into my strip. I like animation but sometimes I feel the CGI stuff is overdone. It’s done so much that it’s not very different or special. I like photography and try to see things through a photographers eye, setting up shots that I feel are artistic.
Question 6: Do you see yourself as a professional cartoonist, or is this just something you do for yourself?
Oh yes, I’m very much a professional cartoonist. I have little time to just doodle for myself. Everything is drawn for print. When I’m not drawing I’m usually writing or thinking up the next script to draw.
Question 7: What type of subject or humor do you consider out of bounds for your strips and why?
)I can pretty much tackle any topic I want in Curtis, but must be extremely clever about it. I get away with saying a lot of things that my colleagues cannot touch, many times because their strips don’t have the characters or situations to handle such subjects. There are many more topics I would like to tap into but in today’s climate would just set me up for a lot of negative comments. I have a lot of topics that landed me in hot water and had to answer questions through interviews. Having a strip like mine I would like to touch upon topics like racial profiling, Black Lives Matter, and the current political scene. But I refrain because there are a lot of Editorial ‘toonists out there who are cracking the whip harder than I could.
Question 8: What kind of equipment or style of drawing do you use?
I’m an old traditionalist I guess you might say. I’m learning ProCreate and an animation app but for the most part I still take to pen, art and paper. I love the feel of drawing by hand this way and I get to have originals left behind that I can share at Comic Cons, gallery shows and appearances.
Question 9: what sort of training or academic program did you pursue to become a cartoonist?
I started my career at such a young age that I didn’t have to pursue any program to become a cartoonist. There were artist teachers in high school that didn’t really like the fact that I was being steadily published and they weren’t. It wasn’t until college that I attended the School of Visual Arts that I met a teacher that would challenge me and work me to broaden my artistic skills. That teacher was Will Eisner.
Question 10: What has been the highlight of your cartooning career?
I can’t say which highlight has been the greatest. I have been lucky enough to achieve quite a few although there have been a lot of ‘downs’, from those who tried to hinder my progress. As artists one can expect to run into those. Actually a lot of major things I have wanted and tried to accomplish all my career hasn’t happened. And I’ve heard all kinds of bullshit answers. But still I try and hope.
Question 11: What has been the lowest point in your cartooning career?
)I think the absolute lowest point has been the fact that I have known some who have pretended to be my friends. They would smile, shake my hand and pat me on the back. But they were only checking for the spot to stab me in the back.
Question 12: Are collections of your work available beyond the web? If So where?
No my only books were available only through my site. Amazon charged up whether you sold or not and I felt that was another dirty business. And although the book publishers would tell me how much they love my work, when I would ask them about possibly a book or series I usually got a negative response. Even now the major publishers won’t touch me. Nor the other cartoonists like me. They are incredibly narrow-minded. I also need a new freelance assistant to work on some properties that I don’t have the time for.
(You can get your copies of Ray’s collections here:
Question 13: Are there any other web comic artists that you really admire?
As a matter of fact, there are quite a few web artists that I really like. Some on the Sour Grapes page that I read every new edition. There are some featured on GoComics that I read. I like them for different reasons-some for the art itself, others for their sense of humor. They show a lot of promise. But I don’t think I should point out just who and which. I feel it might make some others feel slighted and I wouldn’t want that to happen. Everyone is trying their best
Question 14: What kind of impact has cartooning had on your life and could you ever see yourself not doing it?
Cartooning has been a way of life for me for many years and I’ve never thought about what I would do instead. Maybe an animation director or producer. I’ve had a great satisfaction from mentoring. It’s nice to feel that I helped so many with their own careers.
Question 15: Do you have any advice for the Trolls out there who harass content creators? (no need to keep this answer clean.)
There will always be Trolls that don’t like or just want to complain about anything. They are very sad people with little going on their own lives. I understand a little constructive criticism but anything negative is ignored. I’ve found that not responding to them makes them even crazier and that makes me laugh. Some are just snide asswipes who think they’re being funny. But I say if you think you can better, then do it yourself. Find out what it’s like to constantly create and find it isn’t so easy. And I mean create at a professional level, also I would invite them to submit gag ideas. Instead of tearing down try to build up!
Question 16: Do you set yourself any deadlines or other tricks to keep yourself motivated?
I have lived my life on a deadline. I can barely remember what life what like before having to meet deadlines. But it’s good because I constantly like to put ideas out there, express myself, and share my ideas with the world. It’s still a great feeling. When someone mentions a certain thing they like about the strip I truly appreciate it. When I get compliments from other countries it really hits me
Question 17: Apart from root beer, what is your favorite drink?
Hmm, apart from root beer I guess my favorite drink is Ginger Ale. I’ve never been a drinker, not into beer or champagne. That’s why I grew up feeling distant from most others my age group. They drank and I didn’t.
Question 18: Are you already a member of the root beer party and if not, what is the matter with you?
Yes, I am a member of the Root Beer party? I’m watching you all every day!
Question 19: What is the most challenging aspect of cartooning for you?
)I’d say the most challenging aspect of doing this strip or any other artwork, is keeping it interesting enough that the readers come back to it again and again. That is the hardest spot. There may be times that you’re personally going through something or just don’t feel like doing it that particular day and it reflects in your work. The readers can see it. I have literally grown up in this industry so many trials and life’s tribulations have been somewhere on the public stage. But I have always strived to keep up a certain high quality in my work. I feel the readers deserve it.
Question 20: What are your future plans involving comics or anything else going on in your life?
There are several ideas that I would like to offer as a web-comic but right now it’s too time-consuming. I would still very much like to get my strip translated to an animated series. You’d be surprised how often I’ve been asked to gear Curtis into a property like Family Guy, but my work doesn’t go that way. I am not sexist or racist, nor do I make fun of sexual preference of religions. I don’t make women bimbos and I don’t portray young people as stupid. I also wouldn’t want my strip just full of hip-hop references and music. I have a lot of ideas. It’s just getting past the very narrow sighted people who brings these ideas to the small screen that hinder my progress. It’s strange how we creative types have to win over non-creatives. No, not strange but sad.
So there you have it True Believers, A real look at the man behind one of the most influential comics of our day as well as a real look at the industry behind it, warts and all. It is a great and noble thing to make any kind of art, but the industry that exploits and promotes it is not an easy one to break into. Most of the root Beer Party members are artists which struggle finding the time to produce art and balance that with finding the time to work at making a living. Even those who have made it struggle, it is a very real passion which drives an artist to create comics.
Thanks again to Ray for coming out here to do this interview with us, Let’s all raise a frosty mug of root beer to all the great comic creators out there, and next time you see a comic which makes you smile or think, go ahead and give it a retweet or an encouraging comment. Now, let’s enjoy some more great comics from Ray:
One of the great comics of our time. Please join us again next time when we bring you another exciting interview with some of your favorite comic creators. Also be sure to check in with Ray Billingsley for his annual Kwanzaa fable. every year he does a great comic series highlighting the event:
So until we meet again True Believers, may your mug always be frosted and your root beer always foamy.