Okay...I'm back from my cartoon convention...The Festival of Cartoon Art which took place in Columbus, Ohio at the Ohio State University. It was amazing...an interesting line-up of speakers as well as an opportunity to see my cartoonist friends and party into the night...made all the better by the fact that it's tax-deductable.
Some of the speaker highlights for me were:
Ray Billingsley - (creator of Curtis) Ray is one of the most charming men I've ever met and he had the audience in the palm of his hand. He has a rich, quiet voice and he speaks genuinely and honestly. He told us how his strip, Curtis, was inspired by the sibling rivalry between him and his brother and gave us funny anecdotes like the time he put scrambled eggs in his brother's prized blue jacket for "payback". Ray began making money by drawing when he was only 12 and credits his art with "saving his life" by giving him an alternative to getting caught up in things like drugs. There wasn't enough time for all the questions the audience had for him. I enjoyed his presentation tremendously.
Mike Peters - (creator of Mother Goose and Grimm/ Pulitzer winning editorial cartoonist) The complete opposite of Ray in terms of presentation style...Mike Peters is one big ball of ENERGY. Mike had the audience laughing from the time he opened his mouth. The part I loved the most was when he told us how the Brother at his Christian Military School called his mother in for a meeting. He told Mrs. Peters that she should get Mike into a vocation (like woodworking?!!) because he was "retarded". Years later, when Mike won the Pulitzer, that same Brother mailed him a letter of congratulations that said, "I knew you had it in you!" Mike is incredibly talented, a very funny cartoonist and a very funny guy.
Alison Bechdel - (creator of the strip, Dykes to Watch Out For and the graphic novel, Fun Home) Alison is a soft-spoken, thoughtful cartoonist. I was very much looking forward to hearing Alison speak after reading her graphic novel, Fun Home. It's a memoir of her life growing up in a funeral home (thus the title, Fun Home), her coming out as a lesbian and her discovery that her father was gay. It's an incredible book and I highly recommend it. Aside from the literary aspect, it was very interesting to see how she put her artwork together...using overlays of wash on ink...and how she worked from photographs. Alison uses great detail in her work which is evidenced in the details of things like the patterns on the wallpaper in the funeral home.
I could go on and on...Lucy Caswell who puts on the Festival every three years did an outstanding job and assembled a line-up of speakers that had something for everyone.
Oh...and besides cartoonists, who should we run into in the bar on Friday night? None other than Kathryn Sullivan, woman astronaut! Boy...was she cool. Of course, we asked her all kinds of things about her profession and the fact that she had actually walked in space...but my friend, Rina Piccolo got down to the heart of things and asked the one question a bunch of women cartoonists would want to know...how do you manage tampons in space?
Her answer: You just deal with it...because if it becomes an issue, the powers-that-be will use it as an excuse to keep you out of space. Hmmm...I thought that was pretty profound...a good analogy for dealing with any of life's difficulties actually. And the next crisis life throws at me...that's going to be my mantra...tampons in space? DEAL WITH IT!
I'm off in a minute or two to get my hair coloured. YES, I ADMIT IT, I COLOUR MY HAIR. In the past few years I've noticed a lot of the magazines I read are featuring articles on women who embrace their grey hair. (My hairdresser says it's white) ...And I have to say, the women in these photos with their chic hair styles with grey hair (sorry, Pat, I'm not going with the white thing) look fabulous. I mentioned to Pat once that I was thinking about just going back to my natural colour and embrace my grey. (For the record, my father's family went grey early) Pat told me I'm too young for that. I don't know if he really thinks I'm too young or if he didn't want to lose a steady pay cheque. Personally, I'm inclined to go with the former.
I'm very pleased to be part of the new comics line-up in the Lexington Herald-Leader in Kentucky. I was interviewed last week by the amiable Jaime Gumbrecht, the Herald-Leader's Pop Culture writer. Here's a link to that little interview along with some of the other new cartoonists whose work has been added to the paper's roster:
Thanks to all you people who voted for me in the comics survey!
I can't figure out how this works...it must have something to do with some mathematical equation logic...which is why I can't figure out why this works...
I even tried to cheat by figuring out an equation and looking at the wrong symbol and it still came up with the correct symbol...
AHA! I have figured out how it works...the grey matter is still intact...at least for useless, trivial things...if you figure out how it works...don't post...let others enjoy the mystery.
However, next week I'm going to the Festival of Cartoon Art in Columbus, Ohio and I have to get ahead of deadline to get the time off...so posts will be brief after this for a short while. Then I'll get back on track with the syndication stuff.
The above strip is one of a two-week series I did last year about this time. It was inspired by my grandmother's childhood in Grand Bruit, Newfoundland. At the age of 8, she was sent away to live/work with a family in Harbour le Cou. This was in 1908 and Grand Bruit was a small fishing community and my grandmother was one of ten children. Times must have been very tough.
At the age of thirteen, my grandmother made the trip back home to see her mother for the first time in five years. It was at this time, her mother gave her a glass candy dish. It was the only thing she ever received from her mother. My grandmother gave this candy dish to my mother. About the time my daughter turned 8, my mother gave it to me. Someday I will give it to my daughter.
After my mother gave me the candy dish, I couldn't get my grandmother and the aspects of her childhood out of my mind. When I looked at my own 8-year-old daughter, I just couldn't imagine sending her away to look after someone else's children and clean someone else's floors. Of course, this wasn't an unusal situation for a lot of families at the time...and part of the reason I have such a difficult time relating to it is because I am comparing it to the lives we lead today. But the thing that irks me the most was that my grandmother was never sent to school. She was illiterate. Her sisters, also sent to work/live with other families were sent to school. The children of the family that my grandmother stayed with were sent to school. I can't help but feel she was taken advantage of even though, by all accounts I have heard, she was well-treated.
End of vent...let's cut to the chase. I have an idea for a graphic novel based on this story...although I don't know if I will ever actually complete it. There is also the question of whether or not a publisher would ever be interested as well. Irregardless, I have been slowly researching the history.
Last summer, my mother and I took a trip to Newfoundland to do a little research and visit relatives. Mom had never been to Grand Bruit where my grandmother was born and we took a trip there to visit. It was quite a sentimental little trip...my mother said she was trying to imagine my grandmother playing in the hills and picking berries. Here's a few photos...
This is the only way you can get to Grand Bruit: by boat. The community is surrounded by the mountains...hills? The ferry took about 2 1/2 hours from Rose Blanche. I am not a fan of boats. I guess the Newfoundland DNA for sea legs did filter in at my conception. A little too much Upper Canadian, I guess.
This is where we stayed. There are two cottages attached with two bedrooms, a sitting room, small kitchen and bathroom in each. The cottages are immaculate and have an incredible view. If you ever want to visit Grand Bruit, get in touch with Cindy Billiard.
The view from the back of the cottage...it's in the evening. The falls in the background empties into this pond and this pond empties into the falls that you see as you enter the harbour of Grand Bruit.
Here's a view from the front porch of the cottage. Grand Bruit is still a small fishing community. I have to tell you, I've seen a fair bit of Canada and we have one beautiful country...but I have never seen a place more picturesque and breathtaking than Grand Bruit, Newfoundland. Photos do not do it justice. It really is impossible to describe. See the small island in the distance? There is a cemetary dating back to the 1800's on the left, and a communal garden below it. This island is for sale and as I recall, the owner wants 6 million dollars for it. Mom and Cindy and I decided Wal-Mart should build on the island. Every community in the south-west would be sailing in to shop.
This the falls that is in the centre of the community. Grand Bruit is named for these falls which means "big noise" in French.
A better photo of the falls. The wee little person at the top to the left of the church is my mother.
Can't have photos of Newfoundland without a few lobster traps.
Cindy says this church has been photographed and painted more times than you can count.
Another view of the falls. In the background, you can see a young fellow riding what we called the "Grand Bruit taxi". There are no roads in Grand Bruit, just a winding concrete path that horseshoes from the wharf, around the falls and to the other side of the community. The taxi carries luggage and things...like my mother on the back.
Standing on the wharf, you can see where my grandmother's family lived in the late 1800's to sometime in the 1920's. It is the blue house in the middle of the photo. It overlaps a white house above it and there is a shack of some kind to the lower right. This is not the same house, but I was told by the people on the wharf that it is the location of where the house once was.
We had a very tight schedule on this trip and we sailed in late in the afternoon one day and left at 11 the next morning. We thought there wouldn't be much to see or do in such a small place. This is the only regret I have from this trip. We should have spent an entire day there. There were people waiting for me on the wharf who had heard about the strip series and wanted to speak to me. One woman told me her mother had given her the identical candy dish that my grandmother was given. (She had seen an article about the series in the Toronto Star and the photo of the dish) Another gentleman said he had information about the family tree. He subsequently took the time to get my address from Cindy and mailed it to me. You can't beat the heart of a Newfoundlander. I would love to go back sometime...if only I could get there some way other than by boat...
Sorry...such a long post! I'm going to be busy for a bit trying to get ahead of deadlines for a cartoon convention I'm going to next week. Off to write...
You never know which cartoons are going to get a lot of attention. I know any strips with Viggo Mortensen will stimulate mail because of past experience. The following strip appeared about 5 days ago and I'm still getting mail about it. No big issues...just regular day-to-day stuff...but then again, maybe this IS a big issue for regular day-to-day stuff.
I haven't done as many strips about Newman as I thought I would...at least not yet. One problem is that I am not very good at drawing animals...although I think I'll get better as time goes by. I sketch my dog when he's sleeping or sitting to try and get used to his anatomy so I'll be able to draw him more comfortably. I need to understand how everything bends so I can draw him with some personality. As it is now... dog strips are done with the dog as camoflaged as possible...sort of like in a television sitcom when the cameraman (or woman) is trying to avoid showing a female actor's pregnancy whose character isn't pregnant.
The second reason is...forgive me, all you dog-lovers out there...but I'm having a hard time adjusting to this mutt. He's a nice dog...as far as dogs go...but it's a lot more work than I bargained for. My brother-in-law seems to delight in telling us "I told you so". This helps the situation tremendously.
Two weeks ago I was almost in tears while talking to the dog trainer before class. He told me the main problem with the dog is that he's frustrated because we (kids, husband and me) are not on the same page when it comes to training Newman. No kidding. My husband (the dog-lover) thinks everything Newman does is cute. When we discipline the dog (according to the dog trainer's direction)...he tells us we're torturing the poor animal. Then the dog trainer tells me that I AM RESPONSIBLE FOR MAKING EVERYONE FALL IN LINE WITH THE TRAINING OF NEWMAN.
ME. The person-who-doesn't-hate-dogs-but-doesn't-particularly-like-them-either. The person who took four years to convince herself that having a dog would be a good idea. The person who has never had a dog in her life. I am responsible.
Last week I was going to sell him...well, that's kind of an exaggeration. I was going to give him away. My son was upset. My daughter cried all evening, all night and all the next morning. My brother-in-law vilified me at a family dinner. My husband said I would have to do it because he is too attached.
Newman is still here. On a positive note, my melt-down seems to have unified the troops on the dog-training front...and yes...there has been improvement.
So, as far as more doggie strips? Well...it's been my experience that you can see the humour in a bad situation after a period of three months.
Mark your calendars. I think it may take longer.
In case anyone is wondering...yes, I am still running. Am I progressing? Well...my plan is to run three times each week...or run two times plus go to the YMCA and work out on the crosstrainer. I'm finding it hard to do that and have only been getting in two days of running per week I know I have to do better and really...I want to do better...I just find it hard to get three days in.
Last week my ten year old daughter had a couple of friends over and I poked my head into the family room just to let her know I was heading out for my run in case she was looking for me. The girls wanted to know if they could come along and take the dog for a walk at the same time.
I said that was fine if they would promise me TWO things first. Number one...they couldn't laugh at my efforts...and two - if they were on the trail and saw me coming, THEY HAD TO GET OUT OF MY WAY. No way can I waste energy by adding precious extra steps to run around them. They generously agreed.
In the end, I was glad they came. My daughter told me that I am getting faster. Although "fast" is not my goal (endurance is), I couldn't help but feel rather pleased. Even though I haven't been very good about the three day thing...at least I am making some physical progress.
Kevin-who-ran-the-Boston-Marathon-four-times is coming over tomorrow night to run with me. That means he's going to make me pick it up a notch. I'm going to talk to him about changing my goal to run 5 miles to running 5K. I have a feeling he's not going to let me slide.
The first time I met with Murray Thomson, the Managing Editor of the St. Catharines Standard, I took samples of my strip, "Just Between Friends" as well as some editorial cartoons I had drawn.
Murray Thomson called the editorial page editor into the room to show him my ed. cartoons. The editor looked them over and put them down on the desk. "We can buy all kinds of political cartoons from the syndicates.", he told me. He was obviously unimpressed. In fact, it was easy to see that he thought they stunk. "...But we'll pay you $25 for local editorial cartoons." Okay, so they stunk...but at least this offer vindicated my efforts a little.
"I'm not that familiar with local politics.", I told him. The truth is, I couldn't think of anything more boring.
"Well, maybe you should be.", he said.
Ouch. Sheesh. I just wanted to draw cartoons...I didn't want to hang out at Council Chamber meetings. Mr. Thomson thanked the editorial editor and he went on his way.
Now Mr. Thomson turns his attention back to my strips. He takes his time reading them and he smiles periodically. It is harder to sit there in silence while he reads my work in front of me than it is to listen to the editorial editor's rebuke. He seems to like them. And I feel this sense of relief...or something like that...because my cartoon strip is where my heart is.
We chat for a while. We talk about the characters...about the lettering...not in any great detail but we do discuss them. He says to keep in touch and send him more work. I am elated.
Shortly after this meeting, I call him to follow up. Mr. Thomson tells me he has shown the strips around the newsroom and the feedback he is getting is that the women characters are too neurotic...or words to that effect.
"I"LL CHANGE THEM!", I say immediately.
And he says... "No". He tells me I have to be true to myself. And he says to keep in touch and send him more work. So I know the strip needs work but I don't exactly know how to improve it...I need to change the women...but I need to keep them the same.
This goes on for four years. I put my strip away for months at a time...I go back to it. Now and then I send strips to Mr. Thomson... and he always seems interested to read them and chat with me. One day at work, I am frustrated...with the job...with the strip getting nowhere...everything. During my lunch hour, I jump in my car and drive downtown. I walk up to Mr. Thomson's office...at noon hour...and ask to speak to him. His assistant tells him I am there...and he takes the time to see me. Out of the blue...middle of a busy day...no appointment. We talk for maybe twenty minutes. I couldn't tell you what we talked about...other than it had to do with my cartoon strip. I thank him for his time and I go back to work. And it hits me that I had a lot of nerve to just show up at his office like that. And yet, he was willing to take the time to talk to me in that calm and congenial manner of his and I feel very good knowing that he takes me and my cartoons seriously.
In the midst of this four-year period, I meet Tim. This is one of the times I get distracted from doing the strip and it gets put on the shelf. About two years go by and one day, after we are married, I am griping about the fact that I am getting nowhere with my strip. He just looks at me and says, " Well, you're not doing anything about it." He's right.
I take the strip out again and I go back to Mr. Thomson. I'm sitting in his office and he's reading my work. I tell him he can publish them for free. I just want my work in print. He says no... if they were to publish them, they would pay me. He sits there reading them and I can tell he's thinking something over. He's trying to come to a decision. I can see it.
He says...very slowly..."I think...we're going to print these." Or something like that. I just remember he said my strip was going to be on the comics page of the St. Catharines Standard and that I let out this long breath (apparently I had been holding it) and thanked him. It was January and he was going to start them in September.
It took Murray Thomson four years to say "yes"...but the important thing to me during that time was that he never said "no". I will always be grateful to him for his kind ways and his interest. I consider him an instrumental part of my success.
In the next six months, I have sold my strip to several other newspapers and by September 1990, "Just Between Friends" appears in the St. Catharines Standard, the Hamilton and the Burlington Spectator, the Brantford Expositor and two local weeklies.
The strip looks like this:
Next: Working with Jay Kennedy
"Women have to harness their power - it's absolutely true. It's just learning not to take the first no. And if you can't go straight ahead, you go around the corner."
- singer/actress Cher
End of the week and I'm running out of time. It's Thanksgiving weekend for us Canadians. ("we" Canadians?) I'm trying to get my work completed so I can take the whole weekend off...not something that happens often. I'll continue with the syndication story shortly. For now, I'm throwing up a cartoon that I revamped into a greeting card a few years ago. Looking at it now, I would redesign things a bit...for one thing, I would leave the drawing whole...not cut off the women's legs...and I'd put the Kegel caption underneath that. I sent a selection of card samples to a greeting card company and they chose a few to test market. Apparently they didn't test well enough. This card was not one of the ones they chose. I don't know why. I think it's funny...but then, maybe it's a women's thing. I'm betting the card-choosing people were guys.
My road to syndication...continued...
In my other life (pre-husband-children-etc) I sold ad space for a local magazine. One evening, at some sales function, I met a local real estate sales person who was one of the top selling agents in our region. We were talking about sales and in the course of our conversation I asked him what he did to become so successful. He told me that when he first started in real estate he was completely green as to "HOW THINGS WERE DONE". He had no idea what the protocols were for networking for contacts and finding clients. He was ignorant, motivated and starting at ground zero...and he told me that, in his enthusiasm, he went out and did everything he wasn't supposed to do. Apparently, that worked very well for him.
Please keep that in mind when I tell you the following story about the Toronto Star.
I had developed a strip about some women friends (I called it "Just Between Friends" because I couldn't think of anything else) and was ready to get myself published. Full of bravado, I looked at the editorial page of the Toronto Star, checked the masthead, found the name of the Managing Editor and, after taking a deep breath, I called him. Amazingly, I got him on the phone immediately. I asked him if he would be interested in publishing some of my cartoons.
Bear in mind here, this was not a follow-up call. I hadn't sent any cartoons to the man. I don't know what the heck I was thinking...maybe that I was opening the door to a conversation about my work? God only knows, because I don't.
There was a pause...the MANAGING EDITOR OF THE TORONTO STAR tentatively asks me, "Have we spoken before?"
I feel this hollow feeling in my chest...a hot flush is welling up at the base of my neck...I have the first inkling that ... perhaps...I have gone about this all wrong...
"No.", I answer. My bravado has dissapated.
"You mean...you're just calling me up out of the blue?"
The flush has risen to my cheeks.
There is a pause of about twenty seconds...and believe me, twenty seconds of silence on the phone is a VERY LONG TIME.
The flush has engulfed me.
"Well...", he says, "I don't know if you're really serious about this...but if you are, I think you're setting your sights a little high to be approaching Canada's largest newspaper.
What could I say? I thanked him for his time and hung up.
IDIOT. Me not him. All things considered, the editor was very courteous to me. In fact, I'm not so sure I would have had this man's patience if the roles had been reversed. (I don't recall who the managing editor was at that time...I've probably blocked it out of my memory)
Fast-forward this story a little...I am bemoaning this moronic espisode of mine to a friend over coffee. She wonders why I didn't go to my local newspaper, the St. Catharines Standard. Hmm...now this may be a possibility. She tells me her boyfriend's father works at the Standard. Hmm...even more interesting. She calls the boyfriend...the boyfriend talks to dad...dad talks to Managing Editor, Murray Thomson. I have an appointment to see Murray Thomson. I think this is probably more along the lines of the way things should be done.
Still...if I hadn't done the thing I wasn't supposed to do...would I have gotten to this step?
Next: Approaching the St. Catharines Standard
I drew this cartoon of myself and my friends when I was about sixteen. I know that because I recognize the clothes...and the hair styles. The arrow is pointing at me.
As I've mentioned before, "Between Friends" is loosely based on the women I grew up with. I used to draw cartoons of the above four when I wanted to lampoon some crisis or embarrassment that had happened to one of us. Eventually, when I decided I wanted to give comic strip syndication a serious shot, I began to develop a cartoon feature based on those cartoons. I was in my twenties when I started writing the strip that most closely resembles "Between Friends" today and I had added a couple of characters to this foursome.
My first attempts at this strip featured five women characters. I had sent out submission packages to King Features, Tribune Media, Universal Press, United and I think I sent to the Los Angeles Times Syndicate too. I received form letters from everyone except King and Universal. Lee Salem sent me a personal little note thanking me but saying he just didn't think it was for them. An editor at King sent me a note saying they felt that five characters were too many to deal with and that I should take it down to three...and really develop those characters.
To have the personal replies and to actually be given some direction was pretty exciting stuff...and I was more than willing to work on the suggestions given to me by the editor at King.
However, in the midst of this...just to complicate things...I received an actual contract from a much smaller syndicate. (Along with my submissions to the major syndicates, I had sent out a package to a much smaller outfit...just to see what would happen.)
The syndicate's letterhead was a poor photocopy and the letter contained spelling errors. The enclosed contract was terrible...even to my inexperienced eyes. Signing it meant that they owned me lock, stock and barrel forever. Period. The editor/president had also enclosed a cheque for fifty dollars and told me they had sold one of my sample cartoons to a singles' networking newsletter...actually, it was more of Personal Ad catalogue. I guess that was supposed to entice me...and while I was impressed with the money, I was embarrassed by the venue in which my work was being published.
Today, I wouldn't give that contract a second glance. But at the time...I didn't know if I was passing up the only opportunity I would ever have to have my work syndicated. I did take the contract to a lawyer who advised me to ask for a few amendments and send it back to see what the response would be. In the end, I just decided to pass on the contract, work on the strip and continue to hold out for an opportunity to work with one of the major syndicates.
It was going to be a long wait.
Next: Approaching the Toronto Star