Stephanie Piro has to be one of the most prolific cartoonists in the business today. She is the Saturday Chick for the syndicated comic strip, Six Chix. She also self-syndicates a gag panel called "Fair Game". Stephanie also has her own T-shirt company, the award-winning Strip-T Designs, which feature her own gorgeous cartoon designs. In addition to all of this, she has illustrated numerous cartoon books (My Cat Loves me Naked, Paws for Thought, 101 Cool Games For Cats to name a few), runs cartooning classes for children at her local library and is active in a multitude of other cartoon-related activities in her area. Stephanie was very gracious in agreeing to answer some questions about her career.(I first met Stephanie, in an online cartoon chat forum way back in the late nineties. The first time we actually met in person,was at the NCS Reubens weekend in Boca Raton, Florida in 2000.)Stephanie, I don't know how you find the time to do it all. Could we begin by you telling us where you went to school? Didn't you go to the School of Visual Arts in New York? Have you ever had a "real" job other than in the cartooning business?
Hi Sandra,Yes, we met on the Wisenheimer, (private online cartoon chat forum) and, if I remember correctly, you were my NCS sponsor! So, thanks, again for that!I went to SVA in 1969. I was in love with the city and had the best time at SVA while I was there. It was the 60's and NY was the most exciting place to be. There were Be-Ins, there were peace rallies and great used book stores and clothing stores all over. There was the first earth day, and some of the streets were closed, so I remember sitting in the middle of ...maybe third Ave with friends.At SVA, I couldn't get into any cartooning classes. I don't think there were many. I had Berne Hogarth for Art History. I took fine art the first year and Illustration the second. I had Robert DiNiro's Dad for a teacher, too.I started selling my artwork when I was 19. I'd met my future husband and his Mom hooked me up with a gallery on Long Island called Cherubinis. I sold there exclusvely for several years, so, that was my first real job. I sold watercolors and clay sculptures of wealthy people's pets.After a while, I also sold my work in other small galleries around LI and the city and Connecticut.I met a woman who was a decorator who had seen my work at Cherubinis and hired me to make lamps and mirrors that matched her swatches for fabric and wallpaper. That was fun.By the mid to late 70's, there was a recession, and there were gas lines, and several of the small galleries went under. This is when I started supplementing my art with waitressing.It was in the late 70's that I started cartooning seriously, and started trying to submit my work tomagazines. But you may bring that up in a later question, so I'll hold off on that for now.Which magazines did your cartoons appear in? Was the mag cartooning enough to make a self-supporting income? Were the mag cartoons the catalyst for beginning your silk-screened T-shirt business?
It was actually the other way around, Sandra. The first magazine I sold to was Glamour, I think that was in the late 80's. I know I've mentioned before that I started myt-shirt business when my cartoons continued to be rejected by editors, even with great rejections and one editor from Cosmo, whose name I wish I could remember, even tried to interest other editors and gave me the idea to do a theme book which became "Men! Ha!", and he even tried to market that!In 1984, after my daughter was born, I taught myself silk screening, very basic stuff, and printed a few dozen tees and took them to a craft show. Women LOVED them! I sold everything, and Strip T's was born. Women related because they really hadn't seen humor they identified with before.This began a number of boom years when I was actually earning a decent income from marketing my cartoons, without the editor middle-man, and going directly to the public. I also started licensing to card and calendar companies. This was all before that first sale to Glamour.Once Glamour started buying, they continued to use my work for a long time, until they eventually dropped the cartoon, and eventually brought it back with a NYer cartoonist doing it exclusively.I was also lucky to connect with Roz Warren in the early 90's who published a wonderful feminist series of anthologies "Women's Glibber" and my work appeared in all her books except the first one, and she went on to publish two collections of my cartoons "Men! Ha!" and "Caffeinated Cartoons".I've tried submitting to the NYer off and on. I've had notes from editors saying "Please Send More"! but they never bought and I write in a way that I can't submit on a weekly basis. Once I had this great idea. I took an issue of the NYer and pasted over all the cartoons with my cartoons (no offense intended NYer cartoonists!) including the cover and sent a note saying "Here is a visual aid showing you how great my cartoons would look in the NYer!"I never heard a thing for over 3 months! Then it came back in the mail. With nothing! I thought at least I'd get a note or even a standard rejection slip!Through a chain of events, you've had your cartoons syndicated with Chronicle Features, Universal Press and now King Features. Impressive company! You began your syndicated career with a panel called "Fair Game" with Chronicle. Did you just pitch that feature through the mail? How did you go from "Fair Game" with Chronicle to "Six Chix" with King Features?
Your cartoons have appeared in all kinds of book collections . . . some with other cartoonists, some with just your own work and some as illustrated cartoons for other authors. What are some of these titles?My first published work in book form was probably in Roz Warren's Women's Glibber books. Except for the first, Roz used my cartoons in all the other anthologies which included "What is This Thing Called Sex" and my own 2 collections "Men! Ha!" and "Caffeinated Cartoons".Early on, Page One published 2 graphic novels I did, "Blank Tapes" and "Boots and Salads" in one volume. These are two of my favorite works, but published rather on the small side.There have been numerous other collections I've had work included in.Then Donna Barstow and I collaborated on a book idea based on one I had self-published called "Love Me or Go to Hell", which included Anne Gibbons, Lynn Williams and Liza Donnelly.My latest collection was my own, "My Cat Loves Me Naked", a personal favorite as it included my writing as well as my favorite cat cartoons, many I wrote just for this book.I've illustrated a few books including "Understanding What My Cat is Thinking" by Anne Leighton and "101 Cool Games for Cool Cats" by Elissa Wolfson, which is both a challenge and fun.I have more ideas on the back burner as I've been very busy recently!Your cartoon art has a very lovely loose style with flowing line work. I would also classify it as being very feminine. I think your style enhances your cartoons because it seems to me that your writing would have a distinct appeal to women. While acknowledging that humour crosses over all boundaries, what do you think about "women's humour"? Does some humour have more appeal for women than men? Do you think there is a difference in gender perspective at times?Thanks, Sandra, what a nice way to have one's work described! I really think of women readers when I write and hope they enjoy what I have to say, but you'd be surprised to hear that a lot of the fan mail I've received over the years came from men.They were very complimentary about the art and the women I draw and a few, I think, may have harbored crushes on some of my women!I do believe there is a difference in perception. Not always, because I think Rina (Piccolo) can write some of the best gags out there, but I think women tend to enjoy more character driven or point of view humor and men often like the punch of a gag. I realize I'm generalising, here, because some gags make me laugh out loud, but I really enjoy more intimate humor like "Between Friends"!You have quite an extensive variety of work available at your Cafe Press store. (online store) Any thoughts on how the web is impacting on your career? What are your thoughts on what's happening in the newspaper industry at the moment?I sell far more gift items through my cafepress site than I do on my own, partly because I now experiment there with all the new designs there, like my library line and the baby and musician items.The Strip T's line on my site I primarily sell to cat shelters for fundraisers. They are a good and inexpensive way for even small shelters to buy a mixed dozen shirts and earn a little extra money.I'm sad about the newspaper industry because I grew up reading newspaper comics. They were an important part of my life, and it's a thrill to see my work appear in the papers. It never gets old. Not to mention syndication is all quantity and adding papers, so, the fewer papers there are the harder it is to earn a living through newspaper syndication.I suppose the next generations of cartoonists feel connected to the web, instead of newspapers.I saw you draw cartoons once and I was amazed to watch your create your art on a drawing board on your lap. Do you still work this way? What are your tools of the trade and what's your schedule like?I know, I'm archaic! I could never draw at a drawing table, maybe because I'm short, but it's the whole freeing up of the way I draw. I can get right into the art when I'm working on my drawing board. My studio is an art cart overflowing with pens and ink and always a scissors and glue stick for a quick paste-up if I need it. I have to have natural light to work, and quiet. I sit on a futon surrounded by 3 huge windows, and it is ideal for working. I'm lucky to have a nice quiet house and the space I need whenever I want to work.As for schedule... I work 20 hrs at the library, that's 2 evenings, an afternoon and Saturday till 2, so I've learned to work around that. I'd love a real studio to keep all my tools and accessories organized instead of spread all over the house. Maybe some day. That would be nice.Thanks, Stephanie!Visit Stephanie's web site here and you have to go and visit her Cafe Press store here. Also, you can catch up with her on the Six Chix blog here!