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Six Bricks

Jerry and I work in weeklong batches of dailies, “six bricks to a load,” as we say. In our quirky division of labor, it has evolved that I assign dates to the dailies before filing them.

 

When we’re telling a story the chronology of the strips is obvious. Otherwise day and date selection is arbitrary and I find myself wondering if there should be any rhyme or reason to choosing certain strips for certain days.

I used to hear that the weakest strip in a week’s batch should run on Saturday. That seems upside-down to me – Saturday is the one day besides Sunday when a reader would seem more likely to linger an extra moment. I usually schedule one of our best for that day.

Sometimes subject matter suggests placement. We don’t run a strip that’s happening in school on a Saturday. Likewise, a strip about sleeping till the crack of noon probably won’t run on a Monday. I don’t know if readers make these literal connections, but I like the sense of being in loose rhythm with their lives.

There’s a wonderful comic strip editor we’d see in Sweden whenever we did book tours through Scandinavia – Alf Thorsen is his name, give or take an umlaut. Alf had a philosophy about the weekly pacing of a comic strip which he would narrate with great affection for readers.

“On Monday, the working man must rise and face the week – you must give him your most hopeful and funniest strip. On Tuesday he has begun to find his energy – try to sustain his sense of purpose. On Wednesday, his spirits have begun to fade – you must…”

It was quaint and charming and you wanted to hug the guy. Comic strip reading now seems so much more random and sporadic. Does anybody have a new philosophy for the age of Daily Ink, iPads and Hulu?

 

Deadline Drama

Comic strip lore is full of stories of cartoonists playing with deadline fire. Before digital filing of our strips, you’d hear about cartoonists racing to FedEx offices as they closed or bribing airline pilots to get their strips aboard the last flight to New York. I even heard of a guy who moved his entire life to Kansas City so that he could have until ten minutes before deadline to physically run his strips into the office.

 

By comparison, Jerry and I have mellowed into deadline choirboys, never more than a week ahead of or behind the syndicate’s calendar. Deadline drama is a young man’s game. If you’re going to survive in this profession you’ve got to learn how to deliver your stuff on time-ish.

 

But I’ve always figured that if I flaked out for a month and suddenly had to deliver a lot of work really fast, I’d get a hotel room.

 

I work really well in hotel rooms. The first thing I do upon checking in is to rearrange the whole room. I move the desk so that it’s perpendicular to the window and pull any available tables and lamps near so as to lay out sketchbooks and my computer and get a decent orientation to the TV. I fill the bathroom glasses with water – one for ink, one for white-out. I grab wads of tissues as wipe rags and pull the couch into position for room service trays. It’s not exactly The Who, but it’s my cartoonist’s version of trashing a hotel room.

 

I’m in a San Diego hotel right now, working in the room while my wife attends a conference downstairs. She’s a professor and attends conferences several times a year. Since I’m a bum cartoonist I go with her and redecorate her hotel rooms. I lucked out here. This one’s got ESPN, a killer view of the harbor and an in-room coffeemaker. I’m golden.

 

 

Cinematography

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……

 

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