Wednesday, October 04, 2017

A Long Talk with Jim Toomey of Sherman's Lagoon

Jim Toomey at American University
by Mike Rhode

Jim Toomey was in Washington recently to speak to the students of American University’s Center for Environmental Filmmaking. Toomey is the cartoonist behind Sherman’s Lagoon, a fanciful look at sharks and undersea life which appears locally in the Washington Post. He’s also done animated cartoon shorts on ocean conservation. His evening talk was open to the public, and afterwards Jim agreed to do an interview. We spoke by telephone a few days later on September 29th.

MR: How long have you been drawing Sherman’s Lagoon?

JT: Over twenty-five years. Well, let’s see… 1991. So twenty-six years now.

MR: How did you come up with the idea?

JT: I had always loved the ocean and was a big fan of Jacques Cousteau. I got my diver’s license by lying about my age to get my scuba certificate when I was eleven. I was a real fanatic about the ocean and all things ocean-related. I was also a big fan of comic strips. I was a paperboy, so I got into the newspaper business pretty young. I particularly liked the strip “Peanuts.” I read other strips as well, but “Peanuts” was really my favorite. I loved to draw, but I didn’t have the discipline to become a very practiced artist. I didn’t do figure sketching or still lives. I didn’t have that kind of discipline. I loved a combination of things: I enjoy telling stories and making people laugh, I love the ocean, and I love to draw in a loose not-so-serious way. Some of those things pointed towards being a cartoonist. The theme of the ocean came along mostly because I was looking for something different. I wanted to get syndicated and I looked in the comics pages and saw a lot of the same thing over and over again. I wanted to try to create something that was totally different. And that’s why I came up with the undersea stuff. My lead character Sherman is a character I’ve had in mind my whole life. I’ve always been fascinated with sharks. I’ve always been drawing sharks.

MR: You were born in Alexandria, VA. Did you grow up there as well?

JT: Yes, I was there until I went away to college at eighteen.

MR: So were you boating on the Potomac River as a kid, or visit the Atlantic shore?

JT: I didn’t do a lot of boating on the Potomac. My family was not a boat family. We did go to the beach quite a bit, off to Rehoboth Beach. I think one of the formative moments of my life was being at Rehoboth, or Dewey, or wherever it was, and seeing the lifeguards shooting at sharks. They had sharks out there and they actually got out a high-power rifle. I remember the image of them shooting at sharks vividly. I was a little shocked by that, I guess; what good would it do? I also saw a fisherman land a good-sized shark – not a dogfish, it was probably four feet long laying on the pier there. I got to look at it and touch it and I was just amazed.

MR: You’re living in Annapolis, MD now, so still not on the ocean?

JT: [laughs] No, but it’s on the water… we spent the last two years on a sailboat on the ocean so I’ve definitely gotten my fill of the ocean. I think the allure of the ocean as a boy was the same drivers that come with being fascinated by outer space, or dinosaurs... it’s just that unknown that I loved. All the crazy creatures that I saw in Jacques Cousteau documentaries, and in National Geographic, and science books, really made my imagination soar.

Most of us see only the blue surface, and some of us can strap on scuba tanks and swim around down there, but the reality is that we’ve know more about the moon than we know about the ocean, the deep ocean especially. It’s a still a very unexplored place. It’s mind-boggling to me that we’ve got Google Earth that’s photographed every square inch of dry land, but there’s still over 70% of the planet that we haven’t looked at very closely.

MR: Pushing back in time a little, the other night I was introduced to you by Mike Jenkins who was an editorial cartoonist with you at the Journal newspapers. I was wondering how you got into editorial cartooning, presumably after college?

JT: During college, I started drawing political cartoons, maybe my second year of college. I was at Duke University so I drew for the Duke Chronicle. I really enjoyed it. Back then, I was a little bit more of an … I guess nihilist is the best word… I was a little bit more political, a little bit more cynical and I wanted to disrupt with my cartoons. I cared less about making a living and having a steady job at it. I enjoyed the rabble-rousing role that a political cartoonist plays. I wrote and drew a political cartoon twice a week for the college paper through most of my college career.

MR: And the Journal was a small chain around the Washington area, with one for each county?

Page down to see more of Toomey's editorial cartoons, courtesy of Mike Jenkins
JT: Correct. I actually jumped over to the Journal. The first paper I cartooned for was the Alexandria Gazette because they boasted about being the oldest daily newspaper in America. While I was there, it went out of business. Not a very auspicious start to my cartooning career, but I just took my portfolio over to the Journal. They already had Mike there as a full-time guy drawing political cartoons, but I said, “Hey, I’ll do it for twenty-five bucks,” so they found room for me. I think I did them twice a week for the Journal as well.

MR: Did they just run twice as many cartoons then?

JT: I don’t know if Mike was doing one every day. He might have been doing it less than every day and I filled in when he wasn’t doing it.

MR: Presumably you had another job at the time, because you weren’t going to live on $50 a week?

JT: Right. I graduated from college with a pretty marketable degree. I was a mechanical engineer. I had a cubicle job. I was a project manager and I hated it, but I wasn’t in danger of starving.
First Sunday strip
MR: Was Sherman’s Lagoon the first idea you pitched to the syndicate?

JT: No, it was the second or third. The first one was when I got involved with the estate of Percy Crosby and they wanted to resurrect “Skippy.” I was talking to them, but the syndicates or the family didn’t like it. That was my first attempt. The second attempt was something called “Ivory Towers;” I tried doing a comic strip that was based in college. I was right out of college, and I thought maybe it would run in college newspapers. It was probably immature. Then I did another comic strip that I think was about a boy and a dog, but I forget the name of that one. I tried a panel strip… so Sherman’s Lagoon was the fourth or fifth attempt. “Sherman’s” was my first syndicated success.

MR: So was King Features your first choice for a syndicate? How did you sell it? Did you send it to each of the syndicates and King Features bought it?

First week of the strips
JT: No, I self-syndicated actually. When they rejected it, I just kept going. This is when the Apple computer first came out, so I bought myself a computer and Lotus Notes and then I bought a database of newspapers called “Working Press of the Nation.” I transcribed the names and addresses of the top 200 hundred newspapers and I created my own syndicate called Pacific Press Features. I made my cartoon self-syndicated, but I made it look like it was coming from a real small syndicate in California. I sent a cover letter to those newspapers with a sample of the comic strip, and after about six months, I had about fifteen clients including the Denver Post and the Dallas Morning News. Ultimately, the syndicates came to me. Creators Syndicate came to me. They lost a sale to me and that got their attention. They called me and I signed a contract with them.

MR: I notice that your books are published by Andrews McMeel, although you’re syndicated by King. It’s a little weird how the industry has collapsed in on itself.

JT: Yeah, there really aren’t many places you can go to publish a cartoon book. Andrews McMeel is probably the only one, but in the past there was Little, Brown and a couple of others. Nobody does them anymore. I moved to King Features after my first Creators contract was up. I think it was a seven year contract.

MR: Since you were a mechanical engineer, were you generally self-taught as a cartoonist?

JT: Yeah. I was a big fan of comic strips so I was familiar with the art form. What I wasn’t familiar with was storytelling and the actual mechanics of writing. I wasn’t very good at writing dialogue and writing it well, and fundamental stuff like grammar and punctuation. So I had to get good at that, but the drawing part came easily enough.

MR: Most cartoonists I’ve ever talked to have been drawing their entire life.

JT: Yeah, the drawing is certainly a more natural exercise for me than writing. I’m not one of these people who can just sit in a café and write for fun. For me it’s always been hard work.

MR: You mentioned being influenced by “Peanuts” and Charles Schulz – is there anyone else you’d care to mention?

JT: Gary Larson. I loved “Bloom County” – it was very different. The strip that heavily influenced “Bloom County” was “Doonesbury” and I liked what Trudeau did with his strip. All the usual suspects… of course, “Calvin & Hobbes” – it was a great mix of art and writing; not a new idea, but doing an old idea in a very brilliant way. I think television influenced my sense of humor and writing as much as the comic strips. I was a child of “Get Smart,” “Hogan’s Heroes,” “Gilligan’s Island,” and all those stupid sitcoms that developed my sense of humor.

MR: Is there anything in your career, you would do over or change?

JT: I probably wouldn’t have signed that syndicate contract so quickly. I probably would have taken more chances with characters. I think now the strip is so in a groove that it’s hard to do that. I probably would have changed up my formula and been a little more experimental. I should have had a lot more courage with the strip.

MR: Well, on your fourth or fifth try when you finally get syndicated, it’s hard to suddenly say, “I should throw in a murder mystery or a manta ray…”

JT: Yes, when you get syndicated, or at least back then, you feel like you have good thing going and you don’t want to disrupt it, so you tend to get staid. That’s probably my one big regret.

MR: What’s the maximum numbers of papers you hit?

JT: I was probably in 250-300. The industry likes to count Sundays separately. If you don’t do that and just count individual newspapers, I’m still in about 200.

MR: You were drawing the strip digitally when I saw you recently, but you showed a photograph of yourself drawing with pen and ink. I assume originally you did it on paper, but now you do it digitally. Why did you decide to change, and how was the learning curve?

JT: I moved overseas. I married a French woman and we moved to Europe. I didn’t want to go through the expense of FedExing original comic strips every week to New York from Paris. That was going to get expensive, so I was compelled to experiment with a digital tablet. At first actually I got a scanner and I drew the strip and I scanned it and email it. I was probably one of the first cartoonists to email a strip in. Then I embraced the Wacom tablet, because I liked the way you could draw with it, enlarge the drawing, experiment with it, draw something and hit the undo button, resize, reshape, edit… it just gave me a lot more flexibility. I experimented with it for a little while and I think I made the jump in 1999 or 2000, and if you look at my last pen and ink strip and my first digital strip, it’s hard to tell the difference. I really obsessed with maintaining the look.

MR: Since you switched not even a decade into your career, I imagine you didn’t have a significant income stream from selling the pen and ink cartoons then?

JT: No, I didn’t.

MR: Can you give us an overview of your conservation work and how you got started in it?

JT: I was contacted by NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, to help them with an outreach piece. I was living in California, but I happened to be travelling in Washington that month, so I went to a meeting with them. When I showed up at the meeting, there were like a dozen people there and they were really excited about the power of this comic strip. I really had no idea. I just thought I was meeting with one guy that was going to last fifteen minutes and be done with it. I think it was in that meeting that I realized having a couple of million readers in a couple of hundred papers actually was kind of powerful. I helped them with their outreach piece, and then I reached out to a couple of non-profits to help them. Then I started putting some messages into the comic strip – simple ocean conservation stuff like Fillmore the turtle picks up a piece of trash, takes it up to the beach and throws it in a trash can, trash can gets picked up and dumped in a barge, and the barge dumps the entire load of trash right on Fillmore… that giant circle. I enjoyed it. I was back to my political cartooning days. I enjoyed the purpose that the cartoon had – rather than little more than a chuckle a day, I was trying to change the world a little bit. I enjoy that. I wasn’t really doing it, but in my head I was trying. That’s what made me become more and more addicted to putting ocean conservation themes into the strip. I started doing public talks, got asked to be on boards, and it grew into a kind of a fun side… I was going to say side job, but it wasn’t a job. I didn’t get a penny for it. It was a fun sidelight hobby of mine.

(See the other strips in this story line at

MR: You taught yourself a type of animation then to make animated shorts then?

JT: I did animation for the United Nations. I did a series of videos for them that are a combination of me hosting and some animation. I’ve also worked with Pew Environment Group and World Resources Group, and a few other folks. I’ve been doing a fair amount of screen-based education for these outreach groups. If you go to there’s a bunch of those videos there.

MR: After getting involved in ocean conservation, at some point your family decided to go live on a sailboat for about a year and a half?

JT: Probably closer to two years. For me, it was 22 months, but they went over a little earlier. We started in the summer of 2015 and just ended this summer.

MR: What was the genesis of that?

First King Features' Sunday
JT: We always wanted to do this. My wife is a big sailor as well. We missed our chance before having kids. There’s really a sweet spot in time with kids that you can do this sort of thing, and it’s when the kids are old enough to appreciate it, but not so old that you can’t pull them out of their social fabric (which is starting around 14 or 15). Once they hit high school, they get a little unpredictable. I think the education and socialization in a high school full of people is more important than in a crew.

MR: Was it just the four of you?

JT: Yes, it was just the four of us and we hit that sweet spot in time. The kids were ten and twelve, so we went until they were twelve and fourteen during the cruise. Now the girl is a freshman in high school, and we couldn’t do it any longer.

MR: You started in Europe and went around the Mediterranean?

JT: We started on the Atlantic coast of France, and we went around through Gibraltar, so we did the Atlantic coast of Europe. We started at La Rochelle, France, went south to Spain and Portugal, through the strait of Gibraltar, and then we went to the European side of the Mediterranean. We didn’t touch much of Africa; the insurance company wouldn’t let us do it. We did take a ferry to Morocco for about a week and that was one of the highlights of the trip, but we left the boat in Gibraltar for that one.

MR: Did you buy a boat, or do they rent them?

JT: We bought the boat. It was brand-new. It took about nine months to build. We flew to France and picked it up at the factory and commissioned it. It took about three weeks to trick it out with all the ocean-going stuff. We sailed a new boat. I didn’t want to be constantly repairing a used boat; I wanted this cruise to go smoothly.

MR: When you say it’s a factory-made boat, is that a modern plastic hull then?

JT: Yes, it was a 45-foot catamaran with a fiberglass hull. The boat was called “Sacre Bleu” which is French for “gosh-darnit.” It was a tribute to two things: one is my propensity to use foul language when I’m on boats. This is a curse that you can use in front of grand-children. It’s also a tribute to our love of the ocean; if you translate it, it means Sacred Blue. It was a double-meaning for us.

MR: Does your wife come from a boating family?

JT: No, she didn’t. She just likes it. She’s fearless and just really liked being on the boat. More so than me; I was ready to quit after a year, and she wanted to go two.

MR: And you would draw the strip digitally, and just upload it to the Internet for the syndicate?

JT: Right, exactly.

MR: Did you use some of the locales?

JT: I sent them to the Med a couple of times, but a lot of my cartooning inspiration really comes from people-to-people contact. Being in that intimate family situation was more inspiration for the comic strip than the travel was. It was a little more family-oriented, a little more spouse-oriented than usual. You don’t really disconnect anymore; we read all the same headlines on the same pages that we read when we were home. The news is the same. It’s not like it was decades ago when you jumped in a schooner and disappeared off the face of the earth. It felt more like camping.

MR: Back to basic questions – what do you do when you’re in a rut, or have writer’s block? Do your characters talk you out of it, or do you have to gout out and get a cup of coffee and talk to other human beings? Or something else?

JT: I have a variety of techniques. Oftentimes I will just get up and take a walk and come back. Sometimes, I’ll sit down and read the headlines and see if there’s something in there. Sometimes I’ll take on something else because I’m not a strict deadline so I’ll work on animation until my state of mind passes. It always happens. Oftentimes I just pound my head on my desk, until I give birth to something. It’s especially true with the Sunday strips because they’re longer format and they’re standalone. I think the burden of having a standalone funny Sunday strip is a lot heavier. It’s easier in a daily to start with an established storyline and advance it a few inches, and get a chuckle out of it while you’re doing that.

An ongoing animation project that Toomey showed at American University

MR: And you do it all yourself?

JT: Yes, I do it all myself. Advancing a story line in a daily strip is relatively easy. The Sundays have a bigger audience and for me, they’re the showpiece of the strip, so I can’t spend all day trying to write a Sunday and not succeed. In the end, if I have something I don’t like… I have a couple of rules: if it’s not a great joke, keep it simple. The worst joke in the world is a complicated bad joke. I have a little matrix: the best joke is a simple funny joke; the second best joke is a tie between a complicated funny joke and a simple not-so-funny joke; the absolute worst is a complicated, not-funny joke. So if I get in a rut, I just revert to a simple not-so-funny joke and then move on.

MR: How far in advance do you have the strip done?

JT: About five or six weeks.

MR: So here’s the standard “what do you think will be the future of newspaper comics?” question…

JT: Hah. The question really is, “what’s the future of newspapers?” and I think newspapers are probably going to continue to provide news in a digital form, probably shedding a lot of the things we associate with them, like the features I draw, the advice columns, the crossword puzzle, obituaries, real-estate ads, are all going to dedicated websites. Newspapers are just going to provide local news. Comics will probably either just go to long-form books like we’re doing with Andrews McMeel or shorter subscriptions where you pay a fixed amount. But I think our association with newspapers is limited.

MR: You mentioned Andrews McMeel – a few of your colleagues have had stunning success with chapter books like Stephan Pastis and Lincoln Pierce. Have you considered moving your characters into that type of work?

JT: No, I haven’t. I don’t really take the books very seriously. Books have always just been a product of the comic strip and I don’t pay much attention to book publishing.

MR: The last question – while you were overseas, did you follow any foreign comics, or did your wife get you hooked on any French comics?

JT: I saw a lot that I liked. I think my comment on European approach to cartoons is that the spectrum of topic and character is a lot broader than it is here in the US. Here you have the syndicated newspaper comic strips which all follow a formula, you have the DC/Marvel comic book, you have the “New Yorker” gag cartoon, but the variety in Europe is much broader with serious comics for political cartoons, manga, historic comics like “Asterix” – tons of those historical comic books, works like “Tintin” by Herge… so the Europeans have a much wider net in terms of inspiration and artistic style that I really envy. I think it’s a much broader market and a much bigger community, and not just syndicated cartoonists.

MR: I was listening to a French cartoonist the other day, Penelope Bagieu, who says while she’s famous as a French cartoonist, there’s not really much to that. I think it’s a broad, but shallow market, from her point of view. She’s also done an ocean campaign opposed to the bottom trawler nets the French use. Did you ever run across her work?

JT: No, but I’ll look it up.

MR: Do you go to any conventions or book festivals?

JT: No, I used to go to the National Cartoonists Society gatherings, but I’m not a member any more. I don’t really make time for it any more. With kids in school, and drawing the strip and doing the video work and animation, which takes a lot of my time, means that I don’t make time to network within the cartooning industry. If I’m invited to speak, I’ll go, but when I had the cubicle job I went to plenty of conventions so I don’t need to go to many more. I’ve never been to Comic-Con. When I get invited to a fun one, like over in Europe, I’ll go. I’ve probably been to more in Europe than the U.S.

MR: Do you have a favorite thing about Washington, having grown up around here?

JT: When I was kid I would always go to the museums since they were free. As a kid growing up, having access to that and not having to fork over my allowance money was great. As an adult – it’s an easy city to live in. It’s a family-friendly city. A lot of smart people live here, obviously politically active, but with that political activity comes activity in areas that I’m interested in like the environment and non-profits. There’s a very strong media presence of course. There’s only a very few cities I would be welcome to live in and Washington is one of them.

Here's a gallery of Toomey's editorial cartoons from the Journal newspapers, provided by Mike Jenkins:

Oct 21: Cartoonists blood drive

From Carolyn Belefski:

Cartoonists Draw Blood is a part of DC Design Week event calendar. Join us on October 21 for Cartoonists Draw Blood - American Red Cross Blood Drive 2017 and check out what Design Week has to offer!

PR: DC Zinefest activity on October 15

Hallow-Zine fundraiser, Sunday 10/15 
We had a blast last year with spooky/spoopy stories and nearly sold out the room! Get chills with us again on Sunday, October 15th, again at the Black Cat -- if you dare! Admission is $8 with funds to support DC Zinefest 2018. 

RSVP on Facebook and don't miss it!

ALSO: We are looking for readers/storytellers to share a spooky (or silly tale), whether it's from your own zine, or a horror classic. Please contact us if you'd like to participate; space is limited!

Other events and notices:
  • DC Art Book Fair (November 5th) - The DC Art Book fair is back, this time at the wonderful National Museum for Women in the Arts. Free admission to check out arty books, zines, prints, and comics.
  • Zine Labs - DC Public Library will continue to host Zine Labs, in partnership with us. There was a good one on September to coincide with Banned Books Week. Stay tuned for more in the fall!
  • DC Zinefest volunteers/organizers - Do you want to help organize (or volunteer with) DC Zinefest 2018? We are already planning how to put on another awesome fest, and would love your help. Contact us to find out more!

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Flugennock's Latest'n'Greatest: "Outlaw Democracy"

From Mike Flugennock, DC's anarchist cartoonist -

"Outlaw Democracy"

You know you're engaging in real, actual grassroots peoples' democracy when you bring an entire centralized government apparatus down on you in an attempt to stop the voting.

A shout-out in solidarity with the people of Catalonia from Washington, DC, the capital city of the US, where we've also had the Federal government try to stop us from having a referendum.

Comic Riffs' Betancourt on superheroes

'The Gifted' is an X-Men show with no X-Men. But it still works.

Washington Post Comic Riffs blog October 2 2017

From political jokes to superhero laughs: A Colbert writer takes on 'Quantum and Woody'

Washington Post Comic Riffs blog September 28 2017

TCM's Batman comic featured in Comic Riffs

TCM's 'Noir Alley' host wins his dream role: Fighting crime alongside comic-book Batman

Washington Post Comic Riffs blog September 29 2017

Monday, October 02, 2017

Bruce Guthrie Recommends: National Gallery of Art: Saul Steinberg exhibit (September 12, 2017 – May 18, 2018)

by Bruce Guthrie

I popped over to the National Gallery of Art today and noticed one of the new exhibits is some pieces by Saul Steinberg.  The NGA description of it is:

Saul Steinberg
September 12, 2017 – May 18, 2018
This special installation of 18 drawings, two photographs, and an assortment of small sculptures by Saul Steinberg (1914–1999) is part of an initiative—dating from the reopening of the East Building galleries in 2016—to include selected modern drawings, prints, and photographs as part of the permanent collection display.

Revered by millions for his outstanding covers for the New Yorker magazine, Steinberg was an extraordinary draftsman whose line, according to the art critic Harold Rosenberg, was "delectable in itself." Whether making independent works or ones for publication, Steinberg brought a mordant wit and a sharp eye to all his art, creating works that disarm, enchant, and electrify. The installation spans the years 1945 to 1984 and includes a wide range of subjects and types: from World War II air raids to New York hipsters, from collages incorporating real stationery to bogus documents enhanced with fake signatures and seals.

Organization: Organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington

The exhibit isn't exactly huge -- one exhibit room -- but there are several interesting pieces there.  I photographed it as always ( ) and below are a couple of my favorite ones from those on display:



Interview with Dean Haspiel (The Red Hook, GOD SLAP)

Dean Haspiel with Lynda Carter!

by Mike Favila (Guest Writer / Senior Editor) 

I'd heard about Dean Haspiel from a number of friends and had been meaning to check out his work.  I had the chance to meet Dean at Baltimore Comic-Con this year and found him to be immediately engaging, much like most of his works.  Luckily, he gave me a chance to pepper him with questions...

ComicsDC: Congratulations on your Ringo! Where did you get the inspiration for the The Red Hook? 

Dean Haspiel: Thanks! The Ringo is my first official comic book industry award. I'm excited to win "Best Webcomic" for THE RED HOOK. In 2012, I was accepted into Yaddo, a legendary artists/writers colony in Saratoga Springs, NY. I got in for writing and I wanted to focus on prose, theater, and a screenplay during my month-long retreat.

The first day I arrived, I needed to cleanse my comix palette. I didn't have anything particular in mind so I challenged myself, "What if Jack Kirby and Alex Toth had collaborated on creating a new character?" Kirby & Toth are two of my favorite comic book artists and I wondered what they would produce together? So, I created a super-thief that is forced against his will to become a superhero or he will die. I was inspired by Toth's brief pulp noir turn on The Fox coupled with Kirby's cosmic curiosity's. I wrote the script, drew a preliminary sketch of what I then called "The Rascal," and put it away. A few months later, while attending The Atlantic Center for the Arts in New Smyrna, Florida as a master artist for eight other cartoonists, I decided to draw that Rascal script only now I was calling it The Red Hook. In the story, The Rascal steals the "Red Hook" name from another character. It wasn't until years later that I added a sentient, albeit heartbroken, Brooklyn that secedes from NYC to The Red Hook narrative -- and that changed everything.

CDC: Do you have a preference in terms of webcomics vs traditional print? How much of your creation method do you modify to work in each medium?

DH: I prefer print because I'm old and I like turning pages and holding paper in my hand. I miss newsprint. But, you can't beat the immediacy of digital delivery. And, as much as I dig the limited color palette and hit-or-miss print registrations of yesteryear, the clarity of back lit art on a screen is mesmerizing. So, it really depends on what kind of reading experience you wish to furnish. I often prefer limitations, they foster interesting challenges, but you can experiment more online, between infinite landscapes and vertical scrolls and sounds and moving images, there are many more ways to show a story. Working in vertical scroll terms continues to be a challenge because of the way the reveal is always at the bottom and pacing is controlled by the readers thumb. I've had to abandon my proclivities for landscapes and inset panels. I've thought about all this stuff ever since I revamped Billy Dogma at ACT-I-VATE in 2006. And, then cascading my webcomics efforts into Zuda, Trip City, Marvel & DC, hell, even The NY Times, and now, LINE Webtoons. I've done it all except launching a Patreon, which I'm considering soon. Why not? I've been giving away my wares for free for over a decade. I think it's okay to make a few bucks from my loyal fans and peers as long as I keep the trains on time. If Mark Zuckerberg can make money off of strangers posting pictures of their lunch and latest outrage, I can earn a nickel off my comix. Meanwhile, I did produce THE RED HOOK for both digital and print. Honestly, they're two very different reading experiences. It's cool. I'm talking to a print publisher right now.

 You can read THE RED HOOK here for free.

CDC: My children really enjoyed your Mo + Jo book. How did you get involved with Toon Books? Were you interested in doing children's books beforehand? 

DH: Thanks! I don't produce a lot of children's books. I'm glad your kids got a kick out of MO + JO. When Toon Books first launched, I was personally contacted by Francoise Mouly and she offered me a deal to collaborate with legendary underground cartoonist, Jay Lynch (RIP). It was a gratifying experience and I learned a lot. I'm sad we didn't get to produce a sequel. I'm not as interested in producing children's books but I am steering my comix towards All Ages. Like a Pixar movie, all ages stories can be meaningful, deal with real consequences, while resonating with both children and adults. The first ten-minutes of the movie UP proves my point. I'd hazard to say the first decade of Marvel Comics could be considered all ages comics and that's the stuff that's most inspired my entire career.

CDC: Can you tell me more about your play? How did you come to cast Stoya in your play? 

DH: I wrote the first draft of my play HARAKIRI KANE as a screenplay called BLACK EYE in the early 1990s. And, that went nowhere. Then, I wanted to draw it as a graphic novel called DIE! DIE, AGAIN!! but got rejected by several independent publishers. A year ago, I was hanging out with my old pal/actor Philip Cruise and we got to talking about me writing something for him to direct. I dusted off HARAKIRI KANE and thought about reducing it to its essentials as a one-act play, something short, but it kept growing and evolving. Phil cast the play with a bunch of SUNY Purchase alumni, old friends who had become renowned actors, and we did some readings of it. Alas, the price of producing a play in NYC put the kibosh on that version of the production until I asked director/actor Ian W. Hill if he was interested in producing my play at The Brick theater in Williamsburg, BK/NY. Ian had produced, directed and acted in my first play, SWITCH TO KILL, in 2014 (thanks to encouragement from local playwright Crystal Skillman), and he did a phenomenal job with it. Thankfully, Ian took my new play and cast it with a bunch of actors from his Gemini CollisionWorks ensemble, including Phil and a couple of other actors from the original inception.

 I met Stoya via Jeff Krelitz, CEO of Heavy Metal. He wanted us to collaborate and we hit it off. I adapted an essay she wrote into comix form and it was published in the "sex" issue of Heavy Metal #281. I got to know Stoya a little more and realized she would be perfect to perform the lead female character in my new play. Stoya is an intelligent renaissance woman who can do anything she puts her mind to. HARAKIRI KANE is about Harry Kane, a reluctant angel of death with amnesia who uncovers the truth of his mortal demise and tries to beat death at its own game only to fall in love with its most prized acolyte before choosing whether to live forever as an immortal specter or die, again, an honest man. Meanwhile, a serial killer with an impeccable palate searches for his own form of immortality as both a chef and a murderer. HARAKIRI KANE opens October 28th through November 20th.

 You can get tickets here:

CDC: What are you working on next?

DH: We just debuted a limited edition of my new graphic novel collaboration, GOD SLAP, at Baltimore Comicon 2017, a concept I co-created & co-plotted with David Trustman, who wrote and drew and published it. It's an evangelical satire taking the political piss out of the far right and far left. GOD SLAP is the most blasphemous project I've ever worked on and I'm proud to be a part of it. Fans of Howard Chaykin's THE DIVIDED STATES OF HYSTERIA should get a kick out of it, too. Here is a link to the online version where you can order print copies:

WAR CRY, a sequel to The Red Hook is what I'm currently working on. It's about The Red Hook's dead girlfriend who has been resurrected into a Human of Mass Destruction by way of a teenage boy. It's wild and ambitious stuff inspired by Jack Kirby's O.M.A.C., and C.C. Beck's Captain Marvel (Shazam!), with a little bit of Steve Ditko's Hawk & Dove thrown in for good measure. I believe it will launch at LINE Webtoon in mid-November.

The Post reviews Big Mouth cartoon

Ramona Fradon, a Baltimore Comic Con interview

by Mike Rhode

Ramona Fradon is a noted Silver Age artist who worked for DC Comics for years. Her Amazon description reads: Ramona Fradon is a legendary comic book illustrator known for her work on Aquaman, Metamorpho, Plastic Man and Super Friends. She also drew the newspaper comic strip, Brenda Starr and is noted for the humor in her drawings. In her serious moments, she wrote a book about the Faust legend in relationship to Gnostic mythology. In 2006 she received the prestigious Eisner Lifetime Achievement award. She lives in upstate New York in a very old house with a very old dog. She's been at the Baltimore Comic Con for the past few years, and we conducted this interview via e-mail.

What type of comic work or cartooning do you do? 

I worked in comic books, mostly for DC, drawing Aquaman, Plastic Man, Super Friends and stories in House of Mystery and House of Secrets, I co-created Aqualad and Metamorpho and also illustrated the syndicated newspaper strip, Brenda Starr.

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

I never worked with a computer and for most of my career, I inked with a #7 brush. Lately I have been using Micron felt pens.

When working in comic books, you probably didn't get to do your own inks very often. Would you have preferred to? Did you have a favorite inker?

I inked Aquaman and the mysteries and Brenda Starr, which was quite enough for me. I do a tight penciling and have always felt that inking  was redundant. I don't really have a favorite inker although I admire many of them.
When (within a decade is fine) and where were you born?

I was born in Chicago in 1926.

What is your training and/or education in cartooning? 

I studied design at Parsons School of Design and fine art at the Art Students' League in NY. I never studied cartooning specifically, although I was influenced by the great newspaper comics I read when I was growing up.

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

I would have written and drawn children's' books or done book illustrations.

What work are you best-known for?   

Probably Aquaman and Metamorpho.

What work are you most proud of?

Besides  the children's book I wrote (THE DINOSAUR THAT GOT TIRED OF BEING EXTINCT which is on Amazon)  I would say Metamorpho.

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

That's a funny question for someone who is ninety-one (as of today, October 1st).

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

I clean the house or take a vacation or catch up on reading until I feel like working again.

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

It seems as if Hollywood is determining it right now, but I expect it will have a lot to do with the internet in ways I can't imagine.

Do you have a website or blog?
No. But you can see my work on Catskill Comics website.

How was your BCC experience this year? How often have you attended it?

I think I have been there about five times. It's getting bigger, but thankfully, not overwhelmed by TV and Hollywood. Brad Tree and his staff do a great job and make being there a pleasure. They gave me the biggest table (actually two tables) I have ever had.

What's your favorite thing about Baltimore? 

I liked walking around the harbor and eating at a seafood restaurant that overlooks the water.

Least favorite?

Not-so-good crab cakes sometimes.

SPX Oral History - Joel Pollack

Rhode & Pollack at Baltimore Comic Con 2014
by Mike Rhode

Joel Pollack founded  Big Planet Comics in Bethesda, MD in 1986, and is still behind the counter a few days a week. The chain has grown to four stores, as Joel's former employees have opened their own stores. Joel was at the beginning of the Small Press Expo and jotted a few notes down.

I was involved in the first ten or so. The first was a collaboration between Jon Cohen (Beyond Comics), Lou Danoff (Zenith Comics), and myself with moral support (and much feedback) of Dave Sim (Cerebus) and Jeff Smith (Bone). It was planned for a Thursday evening before a Diamond Comic Distributor trade show. It was held at the Ramada Inn in Bethesda. Retailers were invited to set up.

What was your role? How did it change over time?

I'd like to think that I was a bit of a moral compass. I believe my greatest contribution to SPX was disallowing retailers from setting up, starting with the second SPX. I felt that it was a show about creators, and that creators shouldn't have to compete with retailers selling their products. As time went on, my role quickly diminished, and ultimately became the one task of procuring the park for the Sunday picnic/softball game. I actually umpired a few of the games.

Where was SPX when you worked on it?

Mostly Bethesda, though I believe I had some small role the one year it moved to Silver Spring.

What were some memorable events?

One of the big ones was Chris Oarr's tenure as executive director. I believe it was Chris who introduced the Sunday picnic/softball game and pig-roast. I believe it was Chris' idea to create the Ignatz Awards. Chris created the template for the current SPX.

What were your favorite parts of SPX?

The feeling of camaraderie amongst exhibitors and staff. The great volunteers that SPX attracted. The opportunity for creators to meet their fans, and sell their creations which were generally unavailable in comic shops.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

SPX 2017 Panels on YouTube

SPX 2017 Panel - Troubled Teenagers and Modern Times

Panelists Mardou(Sky In Stereo), Charles Forsman (The End Of The Fucking World, This is Not Okay), Sean Knickerbocker (Killbuck), Melissa Mendes (Lou, The Weight) and Nate Powell (Any Empire, Swallow Me Whole), led by moderator Craig Fischer, discuss how they are able to realistically and empathetically create vivid teenage characters who are struggling with morality, mental illness, drugs and the pressures of society.

SPX 2017 Panel - Barometer of the Free Press

Tom Spurgeon moderates a discussion among political cartoonists Ann Telnaes, Matt Wuerker, Keith Knight and Ben Passmore as they expand on the subject of Telnaes' keynote speech at the Canadian Committee for World Press Freedom luncheon in Ottawa. The panelists explore the role and responsibility of political cartoonists/satirists in a time when the freedom of the press is under attack.

SPX 2017 Panel - Genderfluidity, Technology and Futurism

L.Nichols moderates this panel on the recent movement in comics toward exploring genderfluidity within a science-fiction context, with an emphasis on technology and utopian ideals. Jeremy Sorese (Curveball), Carta Monir (Secure Connect), Kevin Czap (Fütchi Perf) and Rio Aubry Taylor (Jetty) each discusses how their own work fits into this bold new vision of comics.

SPX 2017 Panel - Gilbert Hernandez & Jim Rugg in Conversation

With Love & Rockets, legendary cartoonist Gilbert Hernandez helped create one of the most lauded comic series of all time. Pittsburgh cartoonist Jim Rugg has built a loyal fanbase with Street Angel, a beloved indie comic about a sword-wielding skateboarder and her heroic adventures. These two celebrated cartoonists discuss craft and practice, as well as their views on technology, culture, industry, and staying prolific while relevant in today's comic landscape.

SPX 2017 Panel - Filling in the Pieces: Comics Biography

When doing a comics biography, how do cartoonists approach the material they have at hand? For Box Brown, who did a biography of Andre the Giant, he struggled to find material that might reveal the wrestler's inner life. Anais Depommier had to sift through a mountain of material for her biography of Jean-Paul Sartre, a task made all the more difficult considering how much the philosopher wrote about himself. Luke Howard had to deal with a historically and racially sensitive topic in ragtime creator Ernest Hogan. Moderator Chris Mautner leads the discussion. Anais Depommier appears courtesy of a grant by The Cultural Services of the French Embassy.

SPX 2017 Panel - Fukushima Devil Fish:Susumu Katsumata's Anti-Nuclear Manga

Critiques of nuclear energy in Japanese manga did not begin with the Fukushima Daiichi meltdowns in 2011. One of the regulars of the legendary alternative manga monthly Garo in the magazine's heyday of the late 1960s and early 1970s, Susumu Katsumata (1943-2007) has the curious distinction of having risen within the world of political cartooning and literary comics while studying toward a graduate degree in nuclear physics in Tokyo. In the late 70s, he began drawing frequent humor strips about the dangers of nuclear power and stories about the "nuclear gypsies" who maintained Japan's nuclear plants under oppressive work conditions. This talk surveys Katsumata's work on the subject of nuclear power, which is the largest, most diverse, and most trenchant such oeuvre in Japanese visual art. Ryan Holmberg offers a preview of two of his upcoming publications with this wide-ranging visual survey, a collection of Katsumata's manga titled Fukushima Devil Fish (SISJAC and Breakdown Press) and No Nukes for Dinner.

SPX 2017 Panel - Kick-Ass Annie-Versary: Koyama Press Turns Ten

Annie Koyama has championed the work of emerging cartoonists for 10 years. As a leading publisher of underground comix, her roster features the work of many of today's top names in the indie comics scene, including Michael DeForge, Aidan Koch, Alex Schubert, Daryl Seitchik, and many more. KP artists Patrick Kyle, Eleanor Davis, Dustin Harbin, Hannah K. Lee, and Ben Sears assemble in a very special panel spotlighting one our favorite curators of small press cartoonists and their work. Moderated by Rob Clough of High-Low.

SPX 2017 Panel - Mental Illness, Motherhood and Memoir

A new trend in memoir comics is an exploration of motherhood and the ways in which mental illness and societal forces have a profound effect on the experience. Keiler Roberts (Sunburning), Luke Howard (Our Mother), Tyler Cohen (Primahood: Magenta) and Summer Pierre (Paper Pencil Life) provide their perspectives on the topic, both from the point of view of mother and child. Moderated by Rob Clough.

SPX 2017 Panel - The Serious Business of Humorous Memoir

Panelists Keith Knight (K Chronicles), November Garcia (Foggy Notions), Glynnis Fawkes (Reign Of Crumbs), and Jennifer Hayden (The Story Of My Tits) discuss will explain how their focus on the funnier side of their lives doesn't stop them from exploring serious issues as well. For some of these cartoonists, humor is an important tool in diffusing the gravity of their circumstances. Moderated by Marc Sobel.

SPX 2017 Panel - Shock Humor, Farce and Satire

In a world that seems increasingly difficult to satirize, learn how cartoonists Tommi Musturi (Simply Samuel), Aaron Lange (Trim), Sabin Cauldron (Maleficium), and Katie Fricas (The New Yorker) use different comedic tools to address the absurd, the awful and the just plain ridiculous. Moderator Heidi MacDonald keeps track of each artist's approach and how their view of the world colors their senses of humor. Tommi Musturi appears courtesy of the Finnish Literature Exchange.

SPX 2017 Panel - Trump Presidential Library

Celebrants and detractors alike are chewing on the fact that Donald Trump was elected president. Shannon Wheeler and Robert Sikoryak help you swallow. In their books, "Sh*t My President Says," from Top Shelf and, "The Unquotable Trump," from Drawn & Quarterly (respectively), these two cartoonists illustrate Trump's words for comedic effect and insight. There are slides, a brief history of political satire and politics in comic books, and laughter through the tears as they wrestle with an understanding of our current dystopia. Can satire keep up with reality? Shannon Wheeler is the two-time Eisner winning creator of, "Too Much Coffee Man," and a New Yorker cartoonist. Robert Sikoryak started at Raw magazine, is a New Yorker contributor, and the author of, "Terms and Conditions," from Drawn & Quarterly.

SPX 2017 Interviews - Creator Debuts and Highlights

Jack Russell from interviews select creators debuting new work at Small Press Expo 2017 and share a few highlights from the show.