Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Comic strip tease

Got a lovely note recently from Duane Abel, who does the comic strip ZED. He listens to my podcast, which is really cool because I’m a fan of his work. And it reminded me that at one time I too wanted to write a comic strip. I’ve always been an amateur cartoonist. You can see an example above. And I did have a comic strip appear in the local Woodland Hills newspaper when I was in high school. It was a weekly paper and after a few months I was let go for budgetary reasons. They couldn’t afford me. I was making $5 a week. They must've really been strapped because I offered to do it for free and they still said no. 

I investigated how you got a comic strip into real newspapers. You had to go through syndication firms. The big one I seem to remember was King Syndication. I don’t know what it is now, or even if the process has changed. But I did learn this – it was HARD to get accepted by King Syndication. Lots of people submitted strip ideas and only a select few got chosen.

That was discouraging but not crushing. I knew I wanted to somehow get into comedy and figured that any avenue I chose would have strict gatekeepers.

No, what really put the brakes on my comic strip career was this: the pressure. At least the presumed pressure. The drawing was no problem. I could draw and was quite comfortable working in pen & ink. But I would have to come up with a joke every single day. That’s SEVEN whole jokes a WEEK. On Sunday it had to be a longer joke.

For God sakes, I’m not a machine!

The irony of course is that as a comedy writer I had to come up with seven jokes every fifteen minutes. Still, there’s a part of me that always thought, what a great life comic strip writers probably have. I’d see pictures of Charles Schulz (PEANUTS) working in his beautiful studio and sigh. (Of course later a Northern California fire destroyed that studio, but still.) I hope I’m right. I’ve always loved comic strip art and admired many of the artists. I just assume they love their work. And what could be better than that? Okay… a cartoon series based on your comic. And maybe a movie… and merchandising..


Janet said...

It's a shame that among the casualties of the death spiral not only of the "newspaper industry" but of actual physical newspapers themselves are comic strips.

Yes, yes, I know in some cases they can be found online...but it's not the same. There used to be something somehow satisfying about plowing through a newspaper, section by section, until you reached the enjoyment of Peanuts, Doonesbury and Cavin And Hobbes.

The little weekly newspaper in the town where I graduated high school doesn't exist anymore...or does that go without saying?

Oh, and the artwork you posted above, Ken, is quite good. It appears to be a promotional bill, the kind you used to see all the time around town and would grab your attention and occasionally, catch your fancy.

Not anymore. They are all gone. And have you seen an artistic or enjoyable Craigslist ad lately? Yeah, me neither.

I guess just about the only ones who can celebrate these turn of events are the trees who have been saved.

Bum said...

When I first glanced at the drawing [and before I got through the first paragraph and saw that YOU drew it], I thought I was looking at a Hirschfeld original.... I was about to start counting the "Nina's"!

E. Yarber said...

Actually, Schulz was something of an exception. While he insisted on writing and drawing PEANUTS as a one-man operation, most strip cartoonists relied on a team of assistants to handle the gargantuan task of producing so many installments a year. That's why most of the classic strips continued to appear (with dwindling impact) for years or even decades after the death of their creators.

Andrew said...

Ken, maybe this is too obvious, but couldn't you occasionally post one of your cartoons (whether new or old) here on your blog?

There's a wonderful appreciation of Charles Schulz by Bill Watterson (Calvin and Hobbes) at the LA Times. It was prepared for the publication of the final Peanuts strip, but Schulz died almost simultaneously. http://articles.latimes.com/1999/dec/21/news/cl-45937

Sol Rosenberg said...

I read that headline wrong. Leaving today's post slightly disappointed. :P

iamr4man said...

The Schulz home was destroyed by the fire, but the studio you admired is preserved in the Schulz Museum which was unaffected by the fire. If you are ever in the area (Santa Rosa) you should visit the museum.
One of my favorite exhibits is a wall that he created for his children when he lived in Colorado Springs. People who bought the home many years later found out he had painted a mural for his children. The wall had been painted over several times by other owners of the house. The woman had the skills to remove the paint that covered Schulz's mural, a painstaking process. They donated the entire wall to the museum! Amazing generosity:

Ted said...

I think a lot of today's comic strips are produced by teams of writers and artists -- especially gag-fests like "Garfield" and the many "legacy" comics, which are so old the original creator has died. (The Comics Curmudgeon website does a brilliant job of making fun of these.) Meanwhile, some of the best strips ("Calvin and Hobbes," "The Far Side") are no longer produced because their genius writer-artists eventually burned out and retired. A few remaining strips are still enjoyable for their own sake -- I especially like the way a new artist has transformed "Nancy" from an ancient property into an absurd commentary on modern life.

Mike Bloodworth said...

Yes! I thought exactly the same thing.

Mike Bloodworth said...

I had never heard of ZED. I had to Google it. Where does it run?.

That's an excellent drawing, Ken. Kudos.

I too, love to draw and had the fantasy of maybe being a cartoonist someday. But, I never achieved that goal. There always seemed to be a better artist vying for the same job. When I was in highscool, the cartoonist was "dating" the editor of the school paper. But, I'm sure that was just a coincidence.

There is a documentary, DEAR MR. WATTERSON (2013) about Calvin and Hobbes and it's creator. It also features many of Watterson's peers. If you were a fan of the strip you should enjoy it. Plus, it gives a pretty good overview of the industry in general.

DBenson said...

One of life's little ironies is that now, when the newspaper comic strip is but a shadow of its former self, you can get beautiful reprint volumes of so many strips -- classics, nostalgia items, intriguing failures, even foreign titles.

Time was when newspaper strips had the nationwide popularity and impact of top TV shows (back when THEY had nationwide popularity and impact), and their creators were stars, or at least respected celebrities. My impressions is that only the superstars can make a living on one strip; and even then a lot of it depends on merchandising or even unrelated work.

MikeKPa. said...

This week CBS SUNDAY MORNING did a piece on Garry Trudeau, creator of DOONESBURY.(His wife, Jane Pauley, was the interviewer) He said his strip will last only as long as newspapers do. Very sad to think that kind of creative art might die with that industry. My first job out of college was at a daily. I still prefer holding a paper in my hand than reading it online. It's a generational thing, I know.

Max Clarke said...


What are your thoughts about the banning/shaming of the song, "Baby, It's Cold Outside" on radio stations?

Here in the Bay Area, KOIT just announced they would not play it anymore.

Jahn Ghalt said...

I only know one guy, who got to do as an adult (and get paid for it) what he wanted to do in the second grade. For 25 years he drew the editorial cartoons in the Anchorage Daily News.

For awhile he also drew Muskeg Heights for that rag - including Sunday's. I congratulated him for that - and he confessed that it was "a lot of pressure".

I replied that many cartoonists would like to have pressure like that.

Jahn Ghalt said...

AS you have said many times, comedy based on relationships doesn't "date". See Pickles - a "family strip" (meaning ABOUT a family) - this has just the kind of "corn" that I like - and somehow better than the old tired strips.

Peter said...

Oh....Kevin Hart is going to host the Oscars. Very disappointing.

Tom Galloway said...

Possibly of interest; last month Gasoline Alley became the first comic strip to have run, without ever going into reruns, for a full century. It's had only four main creators (the latter three of which did start as assistants on the strip; I don't know how many of such there might have been over the years). Even though it's an aging in real time or close to it strip, original protagonist Walt Wallet is still alive, although I believe this would make him the world record holder for oldest living human ever at somewhere in his 120s.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

The web may have killed newspaper comics, but the web has also created a wonderful ecology of comic strips of its own. I realize I'm out of step here, because I never read comic strips as a child (I think the papers my parents got didn't carry them), and other than Peanuts, which I read in books, I really didn't connect with most of them when I eventually encountered them. I've always loved cartoons, as in the New Yorker, Punch, and latterly Private Eye, though.

But the web has opened up possibilities that newspapers would never have accepted. I think the world is better for having XKCD in it. Friends are big fans of The Oatmeal, Homestar Runner...all kinds of things.


Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

Holy Smokes! "Albert Flasher!"

Pat Reeder said...

My wife Laura, in addition to being a great comedy writer, fantastic retro jazz singer and fabulous babe, is also an excellent artist and cartoonist (annoying, isn't it?) She used to do a strip for a local publication and submitted it to King Features. Their top guy there (I remember his name, but won't tell it) told her that they had one place for a new strip, and it eventually came down to hers and one other, but they went with the other one. Hers featured simple line drawings of cute characters saying funny, pointed things, and they told us those were passe. The other was a family strip, and that's what people wanted these days.

I thought the strip they took instead of hers was just "meh," and it lasted about two months before it was canceled. Shortly afterwards, "Dilbert" debuted, a strip with simple line drawings of cute characters saying funny, pointed things, and it took the industry by storm.

This pretty much reflects every experience I've ever had with the wisdom of experts.

VincentS said...

Have you considered starting off each blog posting with a comic strip drawing?

DBenson said...

I strongly recommend the "Walt and Skeezix" books from Drawn and Quarterly, which reprint Gasoline Alley dailies from the early 1920s (Skeezix's arrival) into the 1930s (another volume appears next year). Besides being rich with background on the original creator and his times, the books show not only the aging of Skeezix and friends (mirroring Frank King's own son), but experiments and evolution as the strip moves from simple gag-a-day to more involved stories, mostly comic but with forays into romance and melodrama.

Prince Valiant, Flash Gordon, Pogo, Peanuts, and Popeye are obviously worth revisiting. Less remembered but still engaging are King Aroo (by Jack Kent, who ended up becoming a popular children's book author after the strip folded), The Heart of Juliet Jones and Mary Perkins On Stage (two handsomely drawn and usually intelligent soaps), Wash Tubbs and the spinoff Captain Easy (comedy adventure), and early Pearls Before Swine treasuries (lots more crocs).