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.



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.

Painting with Jerry

I took a painting class at a community college once, and it hooked me. I’ve been painting on and off for a long time, but lately I’ve been making it a priority in my life. I love the process, the textures, the colors and the tools. Maybe especially the tools.

I’m not one of those guys who owns every type of wrench or power saw ever invented (although I have a few), and I’ve tightened my share of loose screws with everything from my thumbnail to a butter knife. But I’ve learned that the right tool can make almost any job go a little smoother. Including painting. So over the years I’ve put together pieces of studio equipment that work for me. My setup is in a corner of my home studio, and it works pretty well, except that I’ve never been satisfied with my taboret (a taboret is usually a table of some sort that holds supplies and often serves as a palette or mixing surface, too).

I’ve been working off a mishmash of a setup that includes a couple of tables, two sawhorses, a hunk of particle board and a sheet of tempered glass. It’s functional, but I have a hundred or more tubes of oil paint and various tools that are always getting mixed up and/or falling onto the floor. Starting this evening I’ll be the proud owner of a new tool… a taboret table that is specifically designed for a studio painter.

The table was designed by Casey Childs, a painter from Utah. He was also dissatisfied with his setup and worked with a carpenter friend of his to create a taboret for himself that is functional and good looking. The designed worked out so well that they’ve started selling the taborets, and I’m the first customer. Next: pictures of the new and improved painting setup!

My current setup:


Q & A

Q. Jerry writes the strip, and Jim draws the strip. Is it that simple? Is it a strictly divided partnership?

Jim: It's an entirely organic partnership. No one will ever know how much Jerry contributes to the drawing, and no one will ever know how much I contribute to the writing. We talk several times each day and bounce ideas around. I feel like the embedded reporter sending Jerry my notes from the field, because I've had five teenagers under my roof in the last ten years. Now mine are leaving home and his are coming of age, so we still have inspiration underfoot for many years.

I doubt we could have worked this way even fifteen or twenty years ago. For instance, we send roughs back and forth by email working in real time, whereas I guess back in the day we would have been stuffing them into envelopes and waiting a week or two to get revisions. I’m always sending Jerry what I call “starters” – half ideas that he improves and completes. He sends his roughs to me already sketched out with gestures and expressions. It’s hard to say where the writing ends and the drawing begins.

We have become one brain, really, and I think Zits is better than either of us could produce on our own.