BILL WATTERSON: When I was a kid, I loved Peanuts, so I wanted to be the next Charles Schulz. I didn’t understand what that meant of course, but it seemed like a plan. You came to your comic strip from a different path,
RICHARD THOMPSON: Yeah. Off in my own little world of being a pretend cartoonist. Without a plan.
BW: So how did you envision cartooning? What was your experience of it as a kid?
RT: Well, Schulz pretty much defined “cartoonist.” But I remember in fifth grade, a friend’s older sister had some Pogo books and we spent the day poring over them. That was the first time I understood some of the jokes. It was pretty intimidating and dense for a kid.
RT: Yeah, mostly strips. Comic books were hard to find. And a strip is a one-person deal. Not like animation, where you’ve got to work with other people.
BW: As a kid, animation just seemed out of the question to me. I wouldn’t even know how to go about doing it.
RT: It was interesting. But even when I was old enough to maybe try it, I always hated the idea of working with others.
BW: Plus, you needed film equipment and all that.
RT: Yeah. Really, though, I did cartoons without any clear thought of having a future in it.
BW: Any other strips or cartoons that had any impact as a kid?
RT: Some strange ones. There was a panel called Mr. Tweedy about a hapless little guy. I don't remember who drew it. And there was Freddy by a guy who signed as Rupe. I think he was local.
BW: I don't know either one.
RT: I think it was probably in one paper. Also, Wizard of Id... BC... And Mad Magazine of course. I discovered that when I was probably ten.
BW: I remember there was some shock value in bringing Mad home.
RT: Right. (laughs) I remember the first time I picked it up in the grocery store and said I wanted to buy this. My parents looked at it and went ickkk. But my dad finally read it and started giggling. He had a good sense of humor, thankfully.
BW: My next-door neighbor bought it regularly, and he'd bring it over and I'd pore over the drawings. Eventually I worked up the nerve to ask my mom if I could get it. There were a number of years when I really thought Mad was the cat's pajamas, although now I think it was pretty formulaic. But even as a kid, it seemed out of the mainstream of cartooning. It was off in its own world.
RT: It seemed to open up this whole subculture.
BW: Could you imagine yourself doing something in that direction?
RT: Kinda vaguely.
BW: I could never see a way in. I couldn't imagine myself drawing movie and TV satires. I guess Don Martin did the closest thing to a regular cartoon, but in that grotesque style. Or Dave Berg's whatever....
RT: The Lighter Side Of (laughs). I'd often read it first. It was always so square!
BW: Right! So what did you respond to in Mad? What aspect?
RT: Oh, the art. The Aragones drawings in the margins and stuff like that. There was no one thing. Spy vs Spy, which was kind of exotic. And of course the parodies, where you discover caricature.
BW: I marveled at Mort Drucker, but I didn't see any road between here and there. At that age, my drawing skills were pretty much limited to drawing things in side-view outlines.
RT: I would try, but... I do remember seeing David Levine drawings of Nixon in like, sixth grade, in my classroom. My teacher was an anti-Nixonite. These beautiful, elegant drawings of Nixon--I remember being fascinated by it. He was using ink like paint, almost.
BW: What, the hatching?
RT: Yeah. So elegant.
BW: I never really responded to Levine. The likenesses were strong, but sort of like stone sculpture, or something- -not warm. I dunno. I remember Oliphant's caricatures really impressed me--so wild and cartoony, compared to Drucker. But getting a likeness is really hard. What made you want to do that?
RT: Caricature was something that'd always interested me. Later, as a freelancer, I thought the more arrows in my quiver the better. When I showed the art director at the Post, Mike Keegan, some pages of caricature sketches, he was delighted. I was suddenly taken more seriously too. I remember the British show Spitting Image had just premiered, and it gave me the kick I needed.
BW: Hm, I'm trying to think what else was in the air back then...
RT: I remember we had a bunch of New Yorker cartoon books in the classroom. This is like fifth or sixth grade. The teacher would bring them from home or something.
BW: OK, you moved in more sophisticated circles than I did!
RT: I didn't quite understand them. There's a Roz Chast drawing about her as a child finding Charles Addams cartoons, and I remember finding those too, and how gruesome they were. And the painting in them was soft and..
BW: The grays?
RT: Yeah, like no one else.
BW: I was probably a bit older when I saw New Yorkers. You know, if it was a cartoon, I'd jump to read it, but I don't remember them making much impact. Well, actually, I still like George Booth a lot. He's one of the few New Yorker cartoonists whose drawings are funny.
RT: I remember being impressed with New Yorker cartoons, but I probably didn't understand much.
BW: How about comic books? Nothing?
RT: Some. They were hard to find. I'd find them occasionally, and then I'd probably whine 'til I got them. If they were Batmans.
BW: Really, they were hard to find? My town had three drugstores that used to carry them, and I'd get them sometimes, but superhero comics didn't do a lot for me.
RT: Archie and whatnot... I had a few of those but I was never really into them.
BW: One summer my neighbor gave me this huge box of Archie comic books, and I read them in the car on some family vacation. I have no idea where he got them, but there were a zillion of the things, so my brother and I sat in the back seat reading one after another until it nearly killed us. We read ten thousand Archie comic books and they were all exactly the same.
RT: And the drawings are so clean.
BW: Yeah, very slick. Even then I thought they were dumb and outdated. It's a bizarre memory. How about underground comix? Did they have any impact on you?
RT: Some. I came late to undergrounds. I had friends who collected them (Henry Allen has Zap #0) but my main exposure was all in histories and anthologies. I liked, revered Crumb, though he is overwhelming, and thought Wonder Warthog was freaking hilarious.
BW: I saw some in college and I liked Wonder Warthog too, but on the whole, the undergrounds didn't make much connection. I preferred sillier, more cartoony stuff, I suppose.
What non-cartoon things made an impression on you as a kid?
RT: My folks liked doing things and making me a part of it. I remember when the Mona Lisa came to town. I was about six. We stood in line for a long time. Red draperies and guards every few feet, and then ventually, there it is. My mom liked it a lot. The whole way, she was telling me what an important painting it was and the story of it. She had a great appreciation for culture. She didn’t have any great understanding of it so much as just liked it, I guess.
BW: Wow, I guess you’re one of the few people who’s ever seen it without a foot of bulletproof glass in front of it.
RT: I think so. You couldn’t get right up to it--there were velvet ropes. But you could breathe the same air. (BW laughs)
BW: I don’t remember much exposure to fine art--just the popular culture of the day. I think of my childhood as the Batman TV show, the Beatles, and the moon landings. Although I do remember in middle school there were a few years when I read all the Doctor Dolittle books. I loved those--the idea of talking to animals. A PETA sensibility ahead of its time. It probably had some subliminal influence on my strip. What aspects of pop culture did you participate in?
RT: Well yes, the moon landings and take-offs. You knew it was important when the teacher pushed the TV into the classroom.
A couple of years ago, Ray Bottorff Jr moved here from Detroit, and brought his project to produce a bibliography / price guide to paperback books related to comics with him. Ray's got a ComicBacks Yahoo group which he describes as:
"...a list designed to appeal to both fans of Comic Books and Paperbacks. ComicBacks is a term copyrighted by Ray Bottorff Jr to refer to mostly mass-market sized paperbacks that are comic-related. Comic-related means that the paperback has its origins in Comic Books, Comic Strips, Animation, Hero Pulps or other related Sister Arts. I have no problem including paperbacks in this list which may not have originated in comics, but are of a Super-Hero theme. The list can cover both comic reprinted work and prose material from comics or comic characters. And if you wish to talk about Big Little Books, Oversize Paperbacks, Oblong Paperbacks or Trade Paperbacks of this "genre" feel free to do so. Also feel free to post your buy/sell/trade lists!"
He's recently posted a link to a 700-page illustrated e-version of his list of ComicBacks. You can join the group through the above link.
The newspaper industry, long the home of American comics first popular dedicated format, faces an existential crisis presented by the emergence and proliferation of digital media. Against all odds, artists interested in the daily strip format continue to produce work with an eye for print. Mike Rhode will discuss the present and the future of the newspaper comic strip with Marguerite Dabaie, Keith Knight, and Richard Thompson.
The Washington Blade, the gay paper, returned to the stands last week after a several months absence. The paper's name and assets were bought by its former staffers who had been publishing as the DC Agenda. None of the political cartoons or comic strips the Blade had previously published have returned as of the first issue.
A few months ago, we took the Express to task for dropping 2/3 of its comics page. One of the editors responded with the rationale that you could read them on their website. Here's an ad from the March 4th edition, conveying the same thing, but before I clipped it, it originally was sandwiched between two paid ads -- which they ain't getting on their website, or if they are, they won't make the same amount of money. And the rationale of going to their site is still weak, since you can go directly to the syndicates or some larger papers and read dozens of strips.
Cavna continues to practice real journalism - Denver Post cuts 22 comics: 'It appears we didn't totally screw up' By Michael Cavna, Washington Post Comic Riffs blog March 2, 2010 - although I don't think he got real answers. "[Editor] Chavez notes that the first response she received to the polling... was: "You have too many comics.""
Seriously, they dropped some of the best new strips in favor of this tired old lineup, and then adding insult to injury, had the nerve to headline it "We're serious about your comics and puzzles." Perhaps, but if you're going to assume your readers are that stupid, maybe you should have a subheading "But we're more concerned with lining our pockets than putting out a decent paper." Which they might as well be, actually, because they're not going to be in business once the generation voting for Family Circus and Classic Peanuts kicks off.
Make of it what you will - And while all your favorites are still in the section, you'll notice some have swapped places for greater readability. Among others, "Mutts," with its Zenlike simplicity, cedes its front-page space to the wordier "Sherman's Lagoon."
In 1966, the Detroit Free Press published some classic comics (Little Orphan Annie, Gasoline Alley, Gil Thorp, Terry and the Pirates, Nancy, Grin and Bear It, On Stage, Brother Juniper, Peanuts, Brenda Starr, Mutt & Jeff, Dick Tracy, BC, Mr. Mum, Peanuts, Judge Parker) and some not-so-classic ones (The Neighborhood, Smidgens, Fan Fare, The Ryatts, Ferdinand), but they also published a comics panel that appears to have been done by their staff artists.
Odd 'Change is a very small panel that appeared in the middle of the stock tables. Here's three examples:
May 6, 1966
March 25, 1966
March 3, 1966
I haven't been able to find any information on this panel, with an admittedly quick search of OSU and MSU's databases. It's not in Allan Holtz's excellent resource The Stripper's Guide either, although this post points out that the Free Press did do its own comic strips. The original clippings are being sent to MSU's Comic Art Collection. Join us again for another entry in... The Secret History of Comics!
The Washington Post's free Express paper was improved over the holiday and that means they cut 3 of the 5 comic strips they ran. Out are Bizarro by Dan Piraro, Cornered by Mike Baldwin, and The Duplex by Glenn McCoy. Remaining are Pearls Before Swine (which also appears in the Post) and Pooch Cafe, now in color.
UPDATE: The editor wrote back to me to say, "We might feature fewer comics in our print edition now, but we've added an expanded comics section in an easy-access, newspaper-style format at our Web site, ExpressNightOut.com. You'll find Bizarro, Cornered and The Duplex there every day - plus a slew of new comics to make a visit worth your time. Those include Lio, Non Sequitur, The Argyle Sweater, Bound and Gagged, Candorville, Cul de Sac and the New Adventures of Queen Victoria. You can find them here: http://www.expressnightout.com/comics."
While I obviously don't agree with him, I appreciate the fact that he took the time to respond. I've just sent him a response which includes, "We'll have to agree to disagree though because if it's a commuting newspaper, then putting the comics online doesn't really help anyone except those with overly-smart phones. Besides the Post does that already. In the end, I just don't see providing less of something as a way to bring in more readers."
The Library of Congress has sent out a press release about the National Digital Newspaper Program which should interest us as it will provide free sources for scans of comics strips and articles about cartoonists. Quotes from the PR follow - Library of Congress, National Endowment for the Humanities to Announce Expansion of Historic Newspaper Digitization Program
The Library of Congress and the National Endowment for the Humanities will hold a news conference at 10 a.m. Tuesday, June 16 at the Newseum’s Knight Studio, 555 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W. in Washington, D.C., to announce the posting of the millionth historic newspaper page in the National Digital Newspaper Program and the expansion of the program.
The two cultural agencies have collaborated to bring the National Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP) to the Internet through a website, Chronicling America (http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/). The site offers a searchable database of historically significant American newspapers published between 1836 and 1922, based on original material from libraries or other agencies in Arizona, California, Florida, Hawaii, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Washington.
The Library of Congress, the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution, is the world’s preeminent reservoir of knowledge, providing unparalleled collections and integrated resources to Congress and the American People. Many of the Library’s rich resources and treasures may be accessed through the Library’s website, www.loc.gov, and via interactive exhibitions on myLOC.gov.
The National Digital Newspaper Program is part of the Endowment’s We the People program, which is designed to encourage and enhance the teaching, study, and understanding of American history, culture, and democratic principles.
Isn't this your guy, Gene?: From Illinois' State Journal-Register last Friday, 5/29:
"From health care to torture to the economy to war, Obama has reneged on pledges real and implied. So timid and so owned is he that he trembles in fear of offending, of all things, the government of Turkey. Obama has officially reneged on his campaign promise to acknowledge the Armenian genocide. When a president doesn't have the nerve to annoy the Turks, why does he bother to show up for work in the morning?
"Obama is useless. Worse than that, he's dangerous. Which is why, if he has any patriotism left after the thousands of meetings he has sat through with corporate contributors, blood-sucking lobbyists and corrupt politicians, he ought to step down now - before he drags us further into the abyss."
Rush Limbaugh? Nope. Dick Cheney? Nope. Bill Ayers? Nah. It's none other than Ted Rall, whose cartoon work and political insights you've always admired so much. Here's the whole column.
Gene Weingarten: This is CLASSIC Ted Rall.
Rall often has good points to make, but then makes them with such wild overstatement that he undercuts himself. And occasionally has to apologize.
15th Street, D.C.: Gene- What do you think of Sunday's "Doonesbury"? Do you think it could have been perceived as a tad anti-semitic? I am not even close to being politically correct but thought Trudeau took an...interesting path to make a not funny or interesting point.
Best- A 31 married Jewish guy in D.C.
Gene Weingarten: I don't see any antisemitism here, and I think it was a very funny and interesting comic.
The joke is about the current economy, and what bankers have done to us.
Westminster, Md.: Gene, I am curious about how cartoonists are paid. If a cartoonist is syndicated in 1,000 newspapers, as some are, and is paid a mere $5 by each paper, the cartoonist (and his distributor, agent, etc.) make $5,000 PER DAY for drawing a cartoon. But it seems equally unreasonable that a paper like The Post pays a mere $5 for something that may draw more eyes than the headline story on the Metro page. So what's up?
Gene Weingarten: As the old Yiddish expression goes, re wishing something stated were true: "From your mouth to God's ear."
Alas, no. The formula for comic strips is that the author and the syndicate split about $1,000 a YEAR for each newspaper that runs the strip. So, if a strip is in 1,000 newspapers (this is almost unheard of) the cartoonist would get $500,000 a year.
A typical, moderately successful strip might be in 100 papers. Do the math. It isn't pretty.