I often find it liberating to write about writing. Instead of having to come up with original ideas, I can sit back and bask in the glory of the mind.
Today I’ll briefly tackle that cloudiest of subjects: the writing process.
My writing process is quite simple. First I make a nice cup of tea, which I sip with my eyes half closed. This really gets my brain juices flowing. Then I flip through the stacks of magazines and books I never will have time to read. There are lots of ideas in there. People have been paid to write their own ideas and I puchase those ideas. Those ideas then become my property under US Copyright Law.
After a brainstorming session or two, I hang up my pens with a great sense of accomplishment. I heave a sigh of relief and pat my belly contentedly.
I’ve been really digging the new Popeye book, a collection of comics that span 1928 to 1930. There is nothing like this today. Even the current Popeye comic strip has a much different style (which is fine; I’d rather see a cartoonist bring his own style to an existing comic strip than ape the previous one).
Anyway, I did a few quick sketches of favorite panels, and I thought I’d share.
The first panel is the single reason I bought the book in the first place. With characters like that, it’s no wonder Popeye was such a popular strip. The fact that he sits in his cabin (he’s on a ship) with a loaded gun, shells, and a large dagger totally lets us, as readers, know that he is one bad dude. I bet newspapers today wouldn’t allow an evil character to lustily stroke his gun. Back in the Roaring 20’s, however, the lax morals must have let that one slide.
For those of you into moustaches, Popeye (the strip, not the character) had some real good ones. The NOML would be proud.
Today I want to mention briefly the great, great modern comic strip that is Monty. I’m including today’s strip for those of you not in the habit of reading Monty.
Everything about this is good comics. The funny mouth Monty has in panel 2. The seated woman’s prattle about herself. Her husband’s skinny, skinny legs and the way he’s holding one of her shopping bags. I start to giggle before I even read a word of dialog.
Here’s a little little back-story on Monty. Monty was originally called Robotman. Now, Robotman was an “idea” cooked up by the suits way back in the heyday of corporate cartoons. Robotman was conceived as a cash-in for toys, books, games, and, the most lucrative market of them all: comics. This would have been in a similar vein to the Transformers. You know, a toy that has a Saturday morning cartoon. They had the concept, the licensing deals, and the character design. All they needed was a physical human hand to crank out 365 jokes per year, forever. The man they initially chose for this venture? Bill Watterson.
Watterson, a man not known for his business acumen, turned the syndicate down. He later achieved lukewarm recognition for a short-lived comic strip about a boy with an active imagination. Jim Meddick was chosen (and accepted) the Robotman gig. And the rest is history.
Well, not very well known history. For one reason or another, Robotman failed to achieve the success for which was was conceived (for the conception of Robotman, imagine here four white men in business suits performing a pagan ritual in a skyscraper conference room. Coffee will be served). I grew up in the 80’s and kept pretty good tabs on the new cartoons of the day. You could say I was “childlike,” but you could also shorten that to say I was, in fact, a child. Robotman the marketing machine died a dismal death. Robotman the comic strip, however, kept running. Meddick probably had more creative control over the characters now that their original reason for being was wiped away. He introduced new characters, created bizarre, geek-based storylines, and eventually killed off Robotman. He didn’t literally kill the character; he just wrote him out of the strip.
Jim Meddick wrote Robotman out of Robotman.
Shortly thereafter, he was allowed by the syndicate to change the name of the strip. It should be noted that this was the strip’s third name change. First it was Robotman, then Robotman and Monty, and finally, Monty. Shed of it’s original meaning, Meddick has essentially created his own comic strip while drawing the comic strip itself. I can’t think of another comic where that has happened, exactly. Sure, new characters are born into existing comics all the time. But to morph into something entirely different while being published all along? Fantastic.
I just have to congratulate Jim Meddick on creating a great comic strip out of the shell of a mediocre one.
For more information, just check out this website. It has great information about Monty, as well as a section on Calvin and Hobbes.
There is a deal among syndicated cartoonists, it seems, that no one cartoonist will slander another cartoonist’s comic strip. I doubt there is a written statement you sign when you get syndicated that says you have to be nice to Bil Keane and The Family Circus. However, there appears to be a tenuous truce among those people hard-working and lucky enough to make a living off drawing funny pictures. I was having a conversation recently when I was trying to explain this “deal.” The people I was explaining it to (my parents) thought it was ludicrous.
Personally, I prefer to read my comics on paper. Call me old-fashioned: I also draw my comics on paper. I even paint the backgrounds for my website on paper, which may be a bit odd considering how they are meant to be viewed.
Anyway, my question is, given the choice, for a comic strip such as mine (a three or four panel daily, in black and white), do you prefer to read it on paper or on a screen?
I’m partly asking because I just had a friend email me an article (originally published on real paper, in a newspaper) about comics on cell phones. People subscribe to comic strips and even comic books, then they read them one panel at a time on their phone. I imagine the screen on a cell phone is a smaller than the panel size as printed in newsprint, but maybe that doesn’t matter to people.
I guess the question is partly a matter of convenience: you have a phone, but maybe you don’t subscribe to a paper, or your paper doesn’t get the comics you want. But, personally, squinting at a cell phone screen, trying to read a comic, just doesn’t seem like my idea of a good time. Plus if I’m reading it on a bus, I’ll get car-sick (bus-sick).
Enough from me. What do you think? (imagine me pointing a long finger at you.)