Frequently Asked Rabbits Against Magic Questions!

Q. Where do you get your ideas from?
Q. Who are your influences?
Q. What Comic Strips/Webcomics do you like?
Q. What advice do you have for aspiring cartoonists?
Q. How do you draw your comic strip?
Q. How big do you draw your comic strip?
Q. How far in advance do you draw your comic strip?
Q. How much do cartoonist get paid
Q. What pens/paper/inks/computer software do you use?
Q. Do you sell original artwork?
Q. Do you accept joke submissions?
Q. Are you anything to do with the New York band called Rabbits Against Magic?
Q. Are you English?

Q. Where do you get your ideas from?

A. Apparently this is by far the most popular question that cartoonists get asked and I assume it's because either it's a penetrating question that reveals the most interesting inner workings of a cartoonist's mind or it is the only part of the process that seems elusive to most aspiring cartoonists. All I can say is that now real life is handing out all the best ideas for free. Read a lot, listen to talk radio, do things you wouldn't normally do, write down all your ideas in a sketchbook and train your brain to drift. David Mankoff writes much better than I ever could about the creative process in his book "The Naked Cartoonist" (Black Dog, 2002).  According to Mort Walker (Beatle Bailey/Hi and Lois) the list is 1. Sketching funny pictures and putting words around them, 2. Swiping someone else’s idea and changing it enough so that it's original and 3. Personal Experience.

Q. Who are your influences?

A. I usually rattle off the names George Herriman (Krazy Kat), Walt Kelly (Pogo) and Bill Watterson (Calvin and Hobbes) but they are more like heroes than influences, people who's work I worship but didn't necessarily read as a kid. As a boy I read Tin Tin, Asterix and Dr. Seuss plus British comics like Beano, Sparky, Knockout and Tiger. Leo Baxendale who drew a lot of those strips is well worth checking out. Charles Schulz, without question the most influential comic strip artist of all time, made me want to be a cartoonist and demonstrated that comics could be deep and meaningful. The first artwork I remember blowing my young mind was the early editions of Mad magazine in the 1960s (that I read much later in book form as The Mad Reader, Inside Mad, Mad Strikes Back and Utterly Mad). All the 70s Hanna-Barbera cartoons were fantastic but especially Wacky Races. The Banana Splits was just about the best TV show I could imagine. My jaw struck the floor with a mighty thud when I saw Gary Panters set for Pee Wee's Playhouse. More recently I became obsessed with everything by Dan Clowes (Ghostworld), Peter Bagge (Hate), Charles Burns (Black Hole - and currently doing a strip called Swipe File), Los Bros Hernandez (Love and Rockets) and Chris Ware (Acme Novelty Library).  Matt Groening’s strip “Life in Hell” always amazed me. R. Crumb is the greatest cross-hatcher of all time. The only superhero comic I ever read and liked was Plastic Man by Jack Cole.  Jim Flora and Gene Deitch (Terr’ble Thompson) are also amazing artists who I wish I'd discovered years ago.

Q. What Comic Strips/Webcomics do you like?

A. I have a full list of my favorite current strips and other stuff on the sidebar of my blog. Right now my favorite cartoon is  “LOL Cats” by Adam Koford.  Other favorites include “Underworld” by Kaz, “Macanudo” by Liniers and a million others. More political but always spot on the money are “This Modern World” by Tom Tomorrow. “Troubletown” by Lloyd Dangle and “Slowpoke” by Jen Sorensen.

Q. What advice do you have for aspiring cartoonists?

A. Well, ahem, as a barely graduated aspiring cartoonist myself, take this information for what it's worth. There are two essential books you need to buy or get from your local library. The first is Lee Nordlings "Your Career in the Comics" (Andrews McMeel, 1995) which is an incredibly informative account of every stage of becoming a syndicated print cartoonist. Especially useful is the appendix which has all the vital stats and comic resources. More up to date and cyber savvy is "How to Make Webcomics" by Brad Guiger, Dave Kellett, Scott Kurtz, and Kris Straub (Image Comics, 2008) is a lovingly crafted and detailed book that covers all the bases. It is especially good if you are self-promoting or marketing your own comic. Also, if you can get a hold of it, the amazing Ivan Brunetti wrote a very cute and informative book about cartooning that came free with Comic Art # 9 (Buenaventura Press, 2007). In general it can never hurt to draw well. I've heard that around 95% of comic strip submissions to syndicates get rejected because the artwork is not up to scratch. Try to avoid computer fonts (especially any that come free with your OS. Try blamblot.com or comicbookfonts.com for professional cartoon fonts if you really can't hand letter). Remember that if your strip is about a very specific thing then your audience will be equally specific. Another thing to avoid is trying to predict a successful formula.  Don't think in terms of doing a "family strip" or a "sci-fi" strip and definitely don't take a couple of successful strips (say Calvin and Hobbes and Get Fuzzy) and then try and combine them to make something new. You need to create something original so really experiment with different styles and ideas and slowly hone in on what works. If you start running dry of ideas after fifty or so strips then you might want to re-think. The more you stand out, the more you will get noticed. I did over 200 strips before I even started feeling comfortable with the characters and the style I was drawing in. Obviously these days you can use the Internet to network and socialize.  Make a website (use ComicPress if you want a quick, cheap and easy starting point) Comics Sherpa is a great showcase for strips. There are several webcomic podcasts including Comics Coast to Coast, The Gigcast and Webcomics Weekly which should be compulsory listening.

Q. How do you draw your comic strip?

A. See here.

Q. How big do you draw your comic strip?

A. It seems that there is a consensus that comic strips are drawn at a fairly standard sized 13" x 4". I draw mine slightly smaller than that (10.5" x 3.5") so they fit on my scanner. Charles Schulz often drew peanuts up to a whopping 27" wide! I know this because I took a ruler into the Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa and measured them myself. Patrick McDonnell who draws Mutts draws his strip smaller than anyone I've ever seen ( 9" x 2 3/4", only slightly larger than you see in print). The only real rule is that your work can be any size as long as it reduces (or enlarges) to the correct ratio. If it's being printed it will usually be smaller than you draw it. If it's on the web the standard sizes are 600 or 750 pixels wide.

Q. How far in advance do you draw your comic strip?

A. I have to be at least a month ahead or I get nervous.

Q. How much do cartoonists get paid?

A. The term "starving artist" exists for a reason. Sadly, with the declining circulation of newspapers and the increasing expectation of free content on the Internet the possibilities of earning a livable income from cartooning these days is very slim. If you are entering the cartoon arena with the sole intention of making money you will surely fail. Even a newly syndicated print cartoonist won't make much money for at least a couple of years. That said, many web cartoonists successfully supplement their income by selling self-published books, advertising on their web sites, selling original art and merchandising. Some comic strip artists also work as freelance illustrators.

Q.What pens/paper/inks/computer software do you use?

A. It took me forty years to discover there are no magic tools that will transform you into a professional cartoonist. A good cartoonist can produce a great looking piece with a ballpoint pen on a napkin. That said, there are some good investments you can make.

Inks - Use "waterproof drawing ink" or "India ink" so that your art won't fade or spread if you start using water colors over the top.

Pens - Copic Multiliners are the cartoonists pen of choice. Another popular brand are the Pigma Micron pens. Sharpies smell great but they aren't very good for drawing as they tend to bleed on the wrong kinds of paper and aren't as opaque as you'd think. Pens are clean and

Nibs - Among cartoonists there is a consensus that for crow quill pens the best nib to use is the Hunt (now Speedball) 102.  Also good are 108 and 99 but since they are more flexible they are harder to master.  You can buy lots of nibs for next to nothing so try experimenting.

Brushes - For brushes I use Robert Simmons white sable bushes (sizes 00 and 0) but other people use as big as 2 or 3 for cartooning).  Windsor and Newton series 7 are supposedly the best brushes ever made but they are expensive and too soft for my liking. I am a loyal user of Pelikan ink but Higgins is also popular.  Make sure you don't use the ink that is for refilling fountain pens or some types of permanent ink which will clog your pen and/or ruin your fine instruments. Another good option is to get a brush pen. These are expensive but extremely useful for inking-on-the-go and you don't have to stop every couple of strokes to reload. There are two types I use. The cheaper one is the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen. Better still but kinda pricey is the Kuretake Sumi which you can then buy a $5 Lamy Cartridge Converter for CP1 adapter for and fill with your own ink. All brush pens seem to be made in Japan and traditionally end with one single hair. Since that's good for Calligraphy but not necessarily cartooning I trim my ends with an Xacto knife. There's also a disposable Pigma Micron pen that just came out but sadly it's not very durable. A really good website for these types of pens is jetpens.com.

Paper - For paper, I use Strathmore Vellum Bristol board for my final versions. Smooth finish is more commonly used for ink work but has a different feel as the ink tends to sit on top rather than embed itself in the surface.

Digital - I use Photoshop CS2 to finish up the digital version using a small inexpensive Wacom Graphire II tablet. Lots of web cartoonists like to use Illustrator, Painter or Flash to draw directly into the computer using a Wacom Cintiq. Personally I think computers and peripherals in the wrong hands make for lazy cartoon habits so take that for what it's worth.


Q. Do you sell original artwork?

A. Sometimes.  Please contact me at tropicola [at] hotmail [dot] com if you are interested in purchasing anything. I am always happy to send quick signed sketches or postcards for free.  I'm also open to trades.

Q. Do you accept joke submissions?

A. Sorry but I can't use other people's ideas.


Q. Are you anything to do with the New York band called Rabbits Against Magic?

A.  No, but I used to be a musician.  See here


Q. Are you English?

A.  Not any more.  I've been a resident of the US since 1992 and became a citizen not long after.

 

Got comments or feedback? Please visit my blog or email me at tropicola [at] hotmail [dot] com.

 

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