Yes, we met at an NCS chapter meeting because Tim Rosenthal had called me specifically to tell me you would be the guest speaker and if I was ever going to come to a chapter meeting NOW was the time!! I thought Tim had a good point and I was right. Meeting you was a really big deal; you were the first real cartoonist I ever met AND a cool woman!Can you tell everyone how you ended up becoming one of the Six Chix?
I became one of the Six Chix very nearly in spite of myself. Jay Kennedy called me one morning in "98, I think, and told me about a comic strip he wanted to create to showcase the work of women cartoonists. He explained the concept and asked me if I was interested. My answer was "gee, I don't know ; can I think about it?" He said of course I could and that was that. I look back on that and find it unbelievable; any normal person would have screamed YES! But I was working on creating my own strip and thought that should be my goal and nothing should get in the way of that. Not even a sure-fire job on a King Features syndicated strip with the opportunity to work with some amazing cartoonists?! My husband helped me work through that by saying, " You told Jay WHAT?! "
When I tell people I got into this wonderful business through sheer luck they think I'm being modest. Not for a second!Sigh...hearing those names is kind of sad, isn't it? Tim Rosenthal and Jay Kennedy are two very highly respected people in the cartoon industry who are no longer with us. Tim Rosenthal worked for American Color in Buffalo, New York which is the company that prints the sunday color comics. Tim passed away from the disease, Scleroderma. Jay Kennedy, of course, was the Editor-in-Chief of King Features. Jay drowned in a riptide while on vacation in Costa Rica. We've talked before about how these two people were so instrumental in helping you launch your career in cartooning and the importance of their mentorship. How did Tim and Jay influence your career path, and what did they mean to you?I could probably talk far too long about the influence both Tim and Jay had in my career. I'll start with Tim because Tim really was the beginning of my new life. As you know I publish an independent, little wall calendar and the first year  one of my calendars found its way to Tim's desk at American Color. Tim wrote me a very encouraging letter that ended with" if there's ever any way I can help you sell your work just call." Eventually I did and Tim vetted the 30 cartoons I sent him and told me I was ready to send them out to the syndicates. He gave me King Features address and said "Start at the top and work your way down. Don't get discouraged just keep trying."
At this point Jay Kennedy entered my life on possibly the worst day ever. I had left home the day before to be with my mother who was gravely ill in hospital. When I returned to my parent's home that afternoon there was a yellow memo note on the kitchen table : "Call Jay Kennedy as soon as possible." I made the call and had a long conversation with a kind man who must've thought he was dealing with a crazy person. But the bottom line was Jay bought 17 of the 24 cartoons I had sent for King Features "New Breed." I had no idea how big a deal that was but Tim let me know the next day by his stunned silence on the phone. Finally, Tim said" I don't believe it!!" And then he proceeded to tell me how to deal with the contracts and the drawings. Honestly, at that point I think he was more excited than I.
Over the years that I worked with Jay I learned so much; he was a gifted teacher. And like all great teachers he never told me what to do. But over time I learned to take his criticism and his praise as the lessons they were intended to be. I learned by doing and by listening closely to Jay's carefully chosen remarks.
I miss Jay and Tim more than I can tell you but I'm grateful to have known them both. They changed my life in ways I could have never dreamed.Now that you mention how your life changed, what did you do before cartooning? What type of jobs did you have? When did you decide to pick up your pencil? You obviously had some cartooning aspirations before you met Tim Rosenthal since he noticed you through your cartoon calendar.What did I do before cartooning? I had the usual crappy jobs when I was in college and the years after I dropped out. [ I couldn't see myself as an Art teacher and besides life was more fun than school! Don't tell the kids.] But I always drew from age three until forever. There was a brief period when I put my pencils away but I missed making pictures. I had a few stray jobs doing half-assed calligraphy and designing logos etc.but that was the extent of my 'artsy' career until a fateful invitation from a dear friend.
My friend Joan, a reporter and columnist for 2 local papers, asked me if I'd like to attend the domestic violence/ murder trial she was covering. My job would be to take notes when Joan was on the phone updating her editor. I asked if she thought it would be okay if I brought my sketch book and she said sure, why not. Joan then went to her editor and pitched me as a court illustrator ! I was hired @ $5 a drawing. The trial was a huge case and brought in reporters from all over New York,even a guy from The New York Times! It was a great experience but I knew that in my small, rural county this was a once in a lifetime gig. But it did give me confidence.
After the trial I buckled down and devoted a minimum of 1 hour a day, every day to seriously learning to draw and paint. Time passed and one day my husband said to me
" Don't you think you've practiced enough?" I laughed but he had a plan. Without my knowledge Jim gave a few of my "funny" drawings to a friend at a print company and asked what they could do with them. The head printer suggested a calendar might be a good idea and the printing company could use them as advertising.I think it was our friend Dan who dropped off a calendar in the lobby of American Color and you know the rest.
Up until then cartooning was not my focus because I didn't have a focus! I was a time wasting, dreamer who amused myself making pictures like an over-grown child and I never once thought I could make anything from my "art" but pleasure. Imagine my surprise! But best of all, it's still a pure pleasure.In addition to Six Chix and Sticks which are gag panels, you write for both Snuffy Smith and Apartment 3-G. These are three very different types of features. What is your writing process? How do you switch gears? You told me once that Jay advised you on how to write a serial strip when he first gave you Apartment 3-G to work on . . . what types of pointers did he give you?
Actually, it's great fun swinging back and forth between the "girls" in Manhattan and the folks in Hootin' Holler; it keeps the old brain plastic. When I tried out for the Snuffy Smith gig my first question to Jay was, how do you write a gag strip? He understood that my question was about process and explained that I should create proportional panels and sketch in the characters and dialogue. The point being, everything has to fit. When I moved on the" Apartment3-G" I asked Jay if I could continue to write in the same fashion? The previous writer had only typed scripts but I felt I needed to follow my familiar process. Jay said I could work however I liked and this has remained my method.
Writing for Snuffy is essentially gag writing for established characters so firstI had to learn the history of the strip. Jay sent me Brian Walker's book,"Barney Google and Snuffy Smith, 75 Years of an American Legend" and three years worth of proof sheets. Both were invaluable and enlightening.
When It came to writing " Apartment 3-G" ,a continuity strip, things got complicated. This was my first opportunity to write a continuing story line and it was exciting and tricky. Some continuity strips have a set panel structure in the dailies and Sundays . Look at "Mary Worth" and you will see that the dailies are always and forever two evenly divided panels.God bless Karen Moy, the writer of M.W.! To my mind this is a huge obstruction to work around gracefully but Karen does it every single day. In 3-G I have the freedom to shape the daily panels and the license to keep the primary story moving while a secondary plot simmers on the back of my metaphoric stove. Jay encouraged this method for the Girls of 3G and I find it to be a wonderfully liberating and treacherously dangerous. Somedays it feels a bit like choreographing a ballet and other days it feels more like the old plate spinning trick with clowns and jugglers on the side!
But I digress, and God knows I have to watch out for that!
You asked me about Jay's pointers for writing a continuity strip and I will tell you that he didn't lay them all out for me at the beginning. I must've written about 2 weeks worth of strips before he pointed out that all my Blah Blah Blah was really boring. The trick, he told me, is to bring the reader back the next day. And then Jay gave me the rule. I hope I'm not demo-ing the forth wall here but, since you asked, Sandra, here is the magic rule: "Give the reader a cookie at the end of each strip." A cookie translates to these three things: a question. a laugh, action. These can be interpreted in different ways but the essential idea is brilliant. Now all I have to do is make it work.
That's the challenge and it keeps me loving this job!!I know we've shared a few laughs about some ideas for wilder story lines for the Apartment 3-G gals. Aside from the normal parameters that we work within for mainstream newspaper comics do you ever feel restricted in your writing for characters that were not originally your own?
Okay, I guess cigarettes are out these days but the girls can still have fun. An active love life is acceptable as long as it's handled subtly. There is a level of decorum that King Features needs to maintain and I walk that line mostly successfully. I HAVE stumbled, most egregiously in the "Loser Alan Does Dope" story. Let's just say I was too explicit.And speaking of explicit, I wish Margo could say"DAMN!" But that's what these #$%*!! are for.
I don't feel terribly boxed in by the original characters because I have the freedom to create new people. And kill them! Life is good.
Back to the drawing board.