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In My Ears

I’m just finishing three days of intense drawing during which I did four Sunday strips and a week of dailies. If I’m brainstorming for ideas or writing I need either quiet or the white noise of background conversation in a coffeeshop. But when I’m penciling or inking Zits it helps to have some music or podcasts as company.

Lately I’ve been listening to a bunch of stuff my brother Tom recommended. Tom’s about the coolest guy I know and, unlike me, whose musical tastes calcified in the sixties and seventies, he’s continued to roam over the vast landscape of music. He’s got me listening to the Old 97’s, Robert Earl Keen, Steve Earle and Leftover Salmon. I’m also listening to a lot of Chris Smither and am on a Janis Joplin jag. My son gave me a Black Keys CD for Christmas which has worked its way into my head. And my daughter is a huge Stuff You Should Know podcast fan, as I now am.

The coolest guy I never met is Bill Keaggy. Bill is a collector of cool stuff, kind of a hip hoarder. He just posted about what he listens to when he’s in his designing zone.

What do you listen to when you’re in your zone?

Sunday Title Panels

Long ago dinosaurs walked the earth and a single comic strip – say, Little Nemo – could fill an entire page of the Sunday funnies. Comics section layout editors must have kept their X-acto knives tucked away in the back of the drawer and slept soundly on Saturday nights.

Gone is the day. Now, of course, six or eight strips may be crammed onto a Sunday comics page, and the layout editor must be able to tie a cherry stem into a knot with her tongue. To help her out, we cartoonists now deliver our Sunday strips with a title panel tacked onto each strip. The title panel, entirely expendable, gives the editor a few more options in laying out the page. Leave it intact and the strip runs wider and relatively shallower on the page. Whack it off and the strip’s a stockier rectangle.

With:

Without:

Or, of course, twist and distort the damn thing to any size you want, as my hometown paper and beloved former employer apparently feels the freedom to do.

OK, that’s an exaggeration. Barely. But I digress.

The point is, cartoonists are left with the dilemma of how to fill their title panel each Sunday. It can’t be critical to the rest of the strip because it might be (and usually is) thrown away. On the other hand, when kept intact, the title panel is a nice big block of real estate that seems a pity to waste.

Some cartoonists like Scott Adams (Dilbert) treat the title panel like a billboard advertisement – a standard unvarying treatment that serves as a logo. On the opposite end of the scale, Patrick McDonnell (Mutts)

makes every title panel unique, a tribute to some beloved work of art or popular culture. Patrick’s title panels would make a fascinating book by themselves. And some cartoonists actually come up with an

entire extra stand-alone joke for their title panel, related to but independent of the idea in the body of the strip.

In Zits, we usually excise an interesting moment from the pencil sketch of that week’s strip for our title panel. Most cartoonists find their own pencil roughs more interesting than their finished ink

drawings — they’ll tell you that the roughs convey a carefree spirit and capture the fun of the idea before it gets tied to a post and beaten with a rubber hose during the inking and finishing process. And

I like the idea of subtly suggesting that there’s a good old-fashioned pencil drawing underlying the strip you’re about to read.

U.S. Department of Transportation-Approved!

It's not every day that the US Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood blogs about comic strips, friends. Check us out hanging around an official government website!

We're pretty sure he means "ordinary Americans" in a good way.

Oh, and check out Bob Shackelford's Great Hang Up segment on our texting-while-driving series.

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