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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?

 

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……

 

Intro to Color

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.

 

Stat Camera?

 

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.

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