"Sandra often writes her strips in short continuities in such a way that her jokes are funny but only in the context of the series... The real power of Sandra's work is her ability to concisely encapsulate experiences the reader has had, adding a twinge of humor to events that at the time may not have seemed all that funny. JUST BETWEEN FRIENDS is more about an upbeat reflection on the readers' lives than it is about belly laughs."
This is an excerpt of an outline Jay Kennedy (my editor) had prepared to introduce my strip to editors, sales people, etc. at King Features. It was surreal for me to read this. I'm not sure I can even explain why. It was the first time I had seen an analysis of what someone thought my strip was...more than the simple descriptive that it was a comic about three women friends and the interaction between them.
All of sudden, I was working with someone who was interested in talking about cartoon noses and lettering and how to draw hands and line weight and what was awkward about certain drawings and what I could do to improve them. So many times in the past, I had asked people, "How do these comics look? Do they look professional?"...and I'd always get the same generic answer..."They look great" I hated hearing that because I knew they didn't look great. Working with Jay was such a pleasure, not only for his insight and knowledge of the medium but for his pleasant ways, his patience and yes, for his directness. He didn't beat around the bush, he got to the point and I very much appreciated that.
During my development period we focused mainly on my artwork. Jay's biggest issue (although, by no means the only one) was that my women characters didn't look distinctive enough.
"Maeve" is a much more beautiful and sexy woman today than she was in my early strips. I used to draw her with a big jaw line which was distinctive but not very feminine. The fact that she is a divorcee and a character who frequently has romantic escapades really called for a more attractive rendering. As Jay points out above, jewelry was one way to help distinguish her. She always wears large, gold hoop earings today (unless I draw something else for a special occasion she is attending) which is in contrast to Susan's (a plainer, less fashionable character) nondescript, little round button earings.
Also, notice the character of "Helen" in the above strip with "Maeve". Helen is Maeve's assistant at the office. (I really enjoy Helen's character...she's a direct, no-nonsense person with Maeve as well as with her two teenaged kids) While Helen was a very slim character in these early strips, she evolved into a heavier woman. I like the fact that she is heavy but still stylishly dressed with a variety of accessories and long eyelashes. She's confident and beautiful but not stereotypically "model-thin".
A big problem I seemed to have was not drawing my characters in a consistent style. Jay frequently pointed out hair and nose and neck length discrepancies.
Of course, one of the biggest changes in the look of my characters was that of "Laura" who is pictured in the above strip with Susan. Laura had long hair, was very blaze and smoked. She was the least developed character of my three women. I just never seemed to get a fix on her. One day, Jay called me and said the sales people had suggested that I feature Helen more often as she was an African-American woman and it would help make my strip more diverse. I tossed the idea back that perhaps I should just drop my "Laura" character altogether and replace her with a new African-American character since I didn't really feel that she had a strong connection in the strip anyway. Jay was so excited about the idea that I swear he almost dropped the phone in haste to get back to his meeting with this proposal. I have this visual in my mind and I get a little chuckle whenever I think of it.
Jay's comment that Maeve is "generic looking" was also made to me regarding Susan. He mentioned that they basically had round heads with two dots for eyes.
The little girl in the above strip was a recurring character I had in my early strips. She was an obnoxious papergirl who belonged to a union, "Papergirls United". Jay didn't like her and she disappeared pretty abruptly. I kind of liked her but in hindsight, she didn't really bring anything to the premise of the strip.
Another thing that was addressed art-wise was my lettering. I tended to write my words slanting upwards to the right. I notice I still have the inclination to do this today even though I line the top third of each panel as a guide. I'm conscious of it but it seems to be some kind of ingrown habit.
There are many little things that Jay suggested to me to improve the strip visually... like black and white contrasts, making images larger to fill the frame, feathering hair to look more realistic... and I think it's obvious that these changes improved the appearance of the strip and the characters.
There is one thing that's different about my women characters between then and now that Jay did not suggest to me...and I take sole credit for this particular improvement. What is it, you ask?