Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Axel and Alex and Terry Flippo: A webcomics interview

by Mike Rhode

What type of comic work or cartooning do you do?

I do a webcomic called Axel and Alex that runs twice weekly (Sundays and Wednesdays) on my facebook page.  It follows the exploits of an 8 year old boy (Alex) and his mail-order robot (Axel).  I refer to it as a comic strip in comic book format. The strips are mostly done-in-one like a newspaper strip, but are formatted like a comic book page.

How do you do it? Traditional pen and ink, computer or a combination?

I still work the old school way.  I enjoy the feel of putting pencil to paper and creating something I can hold in my hand.  I pencil with a mechanical pencil that I've had for twenty years (nicknamed Ol' Red), and ink with Staedtler pigment liner pens and good old Sharpies for filling in blacks.  I find pens much easier to control than brushes and nibs.

When (within a decade is fine) and where were you born?

I was born in the sixties at the old Washington Sanitarium (now Washington Adventist Hospital).

Why are you in Washington now?  What neighborhood or area do you live in?

I grew up just outside DC in Wheaton, MD.  In the late seventies my parents moved us to Mount Airy, MD (just over the Montgomery County line in southern Frederick County) where I remain to this day with my wife Janet, and kids Amanda and Zach.

What is your training and/or education in cartooning?

Other than a few high school and community college classes, which taught me little about cartooning, I'm self-taught.  Beyond the odd how-to book, my cartooning education comes from a lifetime of reading comic books and comic strips.

Who are your influences?

Cul de Sac interpreted by Flippo for Parkinson's fundraising

My influences date back to reading Peanuts, B.C., Beetle Bailey, and Calvin and Hobbes in the newspaper, to Don Martin's work in MAD magazine, to Stan Lee and collaborators Jack Kirby, John Romita, and John Buscema at Marvel Comics.  I remember drawing a Peanuts strip that was hung in the hallway in my elementary school.  My first experience with showing my art in public.  More recently, I've discovered the work of Richard Thompson and Cul de Sac, and fallen head over heels in love with Alice and Petey. I've just finished the piece for Team Cul de Sac. My father suffers from Parkinson's so it's an honor to be a part of this project to raise funds to fight the disease. 

If you could, what in your career would you do-over or change?

My only regret, if you can call it that, would be dropping out of cartooning for about eight years following high school.  I sometimes wonder if things would have been different if I'd continued to draw during that period. All in all though, no regrets.

What work are you best-known for?

If I'm known at all it's probably for Axel and Alex, which has been around in one form or another for almost twenty years.  I also worked for a few years on an autobiographical humor comic called FL!PPED. 

What work are you most proud of?

I'm most proud of the fact that I've been married for almost 29 years and raised two great kids.  Cartooning-wise, I proud that I've stuck with Axel and Alex, albeit in different forms, for most of my cartooning career.  I love those guys.  They feel like part of me after all this time.

What would you like to do  or work on in the future?

 In the future I'd like to continue working on my strip and hopefully continue to grow my audience.  At this point I really have no aspirations to work on characters that I didn't create or own.  I'm enjoying the freedom I have doing my own stuff, and have plans to take Axel and Alex to new places.

What do you do when you're in a rut or have writer's block?

 When I have writer's block I get away from the drawing board and busy my mind with something else.  Sometimes I'll just take a piece of paper and brainstorm ideas rapid fire.  Most are throwaway stupid, but every once in a while there's a seed that with a little nurturing can become a strip.  I also have a book of quotes that I'll skim through.  Occasionally an interesting or funny quote will suggest an idea for a strip.  I ask myself, "How can I take this quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson and apply it to Axel and Alex?"

What do you think will be the future of your field?

 There will always be an audience for good cartooning.  In my opinion, newspapers have dropped the ball by shrinking comic strips down and relying on "legacy" strips to the detriment of new cartoonists who have something fresh to say.  At this juncture the internet appears to be the place to find fresh new talent.  Monetizing it so that cartoonists can make a decent living is the challenge now. 

What local cons do you attend? The Small Press Expo, Intervention, or others? Any comments about attending them?

I've done SPX, SPACE ( in Columbus, OH), Baltimore Comicon, and as of this year, SMUDGE.  I also do Free Comic Book Day every year at Beyond Comics in Frederick, MD (great shop, by the way).  Stop by and see me on May 2, 2015!

What's your favorite thing about DC?

It's got to be the monuments and museums!

Least favorite?

Far and away, the TRAFFIC.  And for some reason I get lost every time I venture downtown.  I joke that all roads lead to DC, but none lead out!
1st collection of strips with an original sketch on the back cover

What monument or museum do you like to take visitors to?

 Most of my out-of-town family and friends want to see the Washington Monument and the Smithsonian.  I'm happy to oblige!

How about a favorite local restaurant?

I have to admit, it's been since the 80's that I hung out in DC on a regular basis.  At that time I loved Armand's Pizzeria. They had the best deep dish pizza!

Do you have a website or blog?

 At this time I don't have a website or blog.  I'm on Facebook so that's where I post everything Axel and Alex.  I post new strips every Sunday and Wednesday.  They're posted publicly under Terry Flippo.  I also accept all friend requests, so friend me and have all the Axel and Alex goodness sent to your feed!

You've collected the Axel and Alex strips though. How can people buy your books?

It's here, it's here!! The second collection of Axel and Alex strips. This baby comes jam-packed with 40 pages of comic goodness for only 6 bucks post-paid. To make this even more of a bargain, each book comes with an original sketch on the back cover! To get your copy just Paypal me at (don't forget to tell me which book you want, #1 or #2, and give me your mailing address.) Or send check or money order to Terry Flippo at 205 Breezewood Ct., Mount Airy, MD 21771.

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