Always Complaining

“Like in the newspaper?”

Is what most people ask me when I tell them I’m a cartoonist.

“No, comic books.  Like Archie, or…Batman.”

Then more often than not they say:

“Oh my kid likes Batman.  Did you see the ‘Dark Knight’?  I still can’t believe Heath Ledger died”.

I guess I don’t blame people when that’s what they think of when the subject of comics gets thrown around.  I think every kid goes through the Garfield and Peanuts stage.  I love newspaper comics and I’ve been thinking about them lately as I’ve been reading a big fat collection of the ‘Spider-Man’ newspaper strips by Stan Lee and John Romita from the ’70’s.  I’d love to do a newspaper strip, but I’d want to do an adventure strip.  Something light-hearted but not the typical “funny in three panels” strip.

In fact, a few years ago I did about 20 strips featuring an action hero that I had created.  It was a lot of fun but when I started to research pitching it I was told no one buys adventure strips and it was a waste of time.  Usually when people tell me something is a waste of time I don’t let that stop me, but I was up to my neck in Uptown Girl anyway and didn’t have time for both projects.  I still don’t.

A few years later Brian Bastian and I worked together on another comic strip, more in line with what was already in the papers but we soon lost interest and pushed it aside to work on our respective comics.

But lately I’ve been thinking about comic strips again and man, that itch is back.  But today’s comics are just…well, most of them anyway, are just headshots of people talking to each other.  There’s few strips these days that capture the energy and potential that ‘Calvin and Hobbes’ and a few others hit day in and day out.   Lately I’m either thinking about comic strips or complaining about them.

Newspaper strips are tiny.  There’s no room to breathe, to add backgrounds or make the strip beautiful.  Look at a comics section in the newspaper.  Most strips are reproduced so small that even if a cartoonist wanted to get creative with the art it would be too tiny to matter.  The limitations on a comic strip are what turn me off time and time again.

“Gee, why not do a webcomic where you can do what you want?  Don’t let the man tell you how to make your comic.”

True, doing a webcomic opens up so many more possibilities, but really, the idea of being in a newspaper doing a strip is a huge part of the appeal.  Doing a webcomic without restrictions on content, size and space isn’t much different than what I do now.

And like I mentioned before, I don’t have much time to devote to another project.  The idea of creating a new set of characters exhausts me as Uptown Girl and her friends take up all free time as it is.

“Why not do an Uptown Girl comic strip?  Would that stop your complaining?”

Well, I suppose I could, but there’s no way Uptown Girl would translate to the newspaper strip requirements.  Right now with Uptown Girl I can do funny, I can do action or drama.  In a newspaper strip I have to be funny.  Every day.  In three panels.  I can’t be funny every day.  And I can’t be funny in three panels.  It takes pages sometimes for me to get there.  I’m sure some people think I never get there.

Anyway, I thought it’d be fun to give it a shot and show what an Uptown Girl comic strip would be like.  It’s a little more cynical than I expected and it’s more satirical as well, as I just reproduced the art for all three panels since if this was in a newspaper there wouldn’t be room for backgrounds or much else anyway.  Why bother making it look interesting?

But really, hats off to those few newspaper cartoonists who pour their heart into their strip, who make it the best they can despite the limitations.  I respect those who draw a newspaper strip where it clearly shows that the cartoonist loves what they do, as opposed to phoning it in each day with another gag about golf or trying on shoes.



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