Jerry and I had dinner last night with Jerry’s friend Conrad Buff. Conrad, in addition to being the grandson of the great western landscape painter of the same name, is an Oscar-winning film editor for Titanic and has a vast list of film credits to his name. After talking to Conrad about the, well, titanic challenges of editing a film, I’m inclined to think the film editor’s name should run above the director’s, if not above the title of the film itself.
The evening’s conversation led me to the thought that my role in Zits is often that of a cinematographer. Take for example Tuesday’s strip.
Here’s Jerry’s pencil rough, the blueprint I received from him. All of the elements are already in place, the acting is clear, he’s thought out the composition and dialogue and wrapped it up with a bow. I know, could my job get any easier?
On days when the idea is as cooked as this one, my job is like a cinematographer’s. Without doing harm to the idea, I try to improve the camera angle and push the visuals as far as I can. In this case I just brought Jeremy’s head as far forward as I could so we could see the action inside, and lowered the angle on Mom and Dad so they appeared a bit nearer.
In my own penciling of the strip before inking, you might say that I erase the actors’ weaker takes and splice together their stronger takes for the final cut.
And the Academy Award for Strained Metaphors goes to……
Jerry here, reporting from high in the Colorado Rockies. Jim and I are hanging out for a few days together working on some strip ideas and the newest Zits book due out this fall, called "Sunday Brunch".
In the (insert fairly large number here) of years that Jim and I have been doing Zits, I can probably count on two hands the number of times we've actually worked on the strip while we're in the same room. When we started the strip in 1997 I was living in Arizona, Jim was in Ohio and working by telephone and fax machine (remember those?) was the only choice. In fact, it's become so natural that on the rare occasion we do have the chance to work together the rhythm is so different that we spend the first few hours sort of staring at our sketchbooks and guzzling coffee.
Anyway, that's kind of how it went this morning at the Half Moon Bakery. So after some 14 years of phone conversations, countless faxes and e-mails, vacations, business trips, a birth, deaths, a marriage and all of the things that make up a friendship, this is the way we finally ended up getting some work done. Weird.
It still surprises me when I see a daily Zits strip in color, like on the home page of zitscomics.com. Benjamin Peters-Keirn does most of our coloring now. He’s a whiz and brings nice spontaneity to the job. I email the finished black and white files to him and, on Sunday strips, some ideas about how I see the palette. But I’ve never colored the dailies and Ben has a great feel for what I like.
My own earliest color work was on my Sunday editorial cartoons for the Cincinnati Enquirer starting in the ‘80s. When I finished a drawing I’d bring it back to a darkroom in the newspaper’s art department and lay it on a huge machine that made Photostats, like a giant Polaroid camera. I’d take the photosensitive acetate out of the box under the red lights and put it on this machine, and then shoot the art. I don’t know how it worked, but it was a big machine that took up half of a darkroom. And this was the critical piece of hardware for the way that I was doing my Sunday color work. I would shoot the cartoon onto a piece of clear acetate, and then that would be my black plate. Then, back in my studio, I would be lifting and setting the acetate down and coloring on a second piece of paper that the engravers then put on some kind of rotary drum and scanned. It’s just the way it was done, so this is the way I was taught to do it.
OK, that isn’t really a picture of the stat camera but it was just as ancient and scary looking. So what happened is that the newsroom started going to computers, and the art department started going to computers. And finally one day this stat machine broke down, and the bosses started asking around, and it turned out I was the only one still using it. They said, “Well, forget that, we’re not going to get it fixed. You’ll have to get used to a computer.”
So literally that day I had to learn how to color a cartoon on a computer, and from then on, that’s the way I did my Sunday cartoon. So, like any of us, I remember those first attempts being just nightmares, where I thought I was holding the pencil tool when I was in fact holding the magnifying glass tool. I’d zoom in on the drawing, lost between the pixel planets, not understanding what was happening. I was thrown into the computer age, like how they teach a kid to swim by throwing him in the water.