A cartoonist. I always wanted to be one. Ok, I was one. (I had the world’s shortest syndication. My syndicate went out of business the week my strip was supposed to launch.) Maybe I still am (I still do cartoons and produce animation). But I’m still in awe of the greats.
If you’re old enough to remember a thing called a newspaper (it’s black and white and read all over) you are probably a fan of comic strips. The comics page is the 2nd or 3rd most read page of any paper. Many of us learned to draw by copying our favorite strips when we were kids. C’mon. Admit it. You’re a fan. Virtually all artists and animators are fans of comic strips.
While newspapers are dying, comic strips are alive and well. Many of the old strips are still great and there’s a huge growth of new, cutting edge strips appearing online. Two benefits of online strips are; One, they can be more adult and not so family friendly. Two, they are not limited by space. They can be any size, any shape and any length.
I’ve worked with tons of huge TV and movie stars over the last 26 years. But I still get more star-struck when I meet one of my cartooning heroes than I ever did meeting an actor.
Over the last few years, I’ve been lucky enough to join the National Cartoonists Society or NCS. (www.Reuben.org ) Going to the yearly Reuben Awards weekend is like nirvana. All the greats are there in one place. Sure, ComicCon is cool but it’s hard to talk one-on-one with anyone there while you’re being crushed by 125,000 sweating comic fans. At the Reuben weekend, almost every person there is a famous cartoonist. You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting one. (Not that we swing around a lot of dead cats, but if a gag can be made of it, I’m sure we’ll do it)
It’s funny. I recently went to my 30th high school drama reunion. The moment I stepped into my old high school I felt like I was 18 again. But when I meet the comic strip greats, like Jim Davis (Garfield), Lynn Johnston (For Better or For Worse), Garry Trudeau (Doonesbury) and others, I feel like I’m 10 again.
I totally geek out during this event. Luckily I’m not the only one. All the cartoonists view each other in high esteem (except for, I’m told, Bill Watterson). We all want each other’s autographs. This year I finally remembered to bring some of my old books to get signed. I got sketches and signatures from Jim Davis, Bill Amend (Fox Trot), ‘Little Jeffy’ Keane (Family Circus), Mike Peters (Mother Goose & Grimm) and eight of the great MAD Magazine writers and artists.
Being around these incredible cartoonists makes you look at life differently. Let me set the stage. I’m at my table at the Reuben Awards this past May. It’s a black tie affair. As many of you know, I don’t wear ties. I don’t own a tie. I don’t plan to buy a tie. So I didn’t wear a tie. Under my suit, I wore a bright red button down Mickey Mouse shirt. Lynn Johnston, the amazing creator of the strip For Better or For Worse walked by and scolded me, “Mark, this is a black tie affair and we take this VERY seriously!”
My eyes went wide. I watched Lynn walk by and then I turned to the others at my table (who included Chad Carpenter, creator of the hysterical Tundra and the entire clan from B.C., Johnny Hart’s family). I chuckled and said to them, “Lynn Johnston knows my NAME!” That’s it. That was my only thought. Pride of personal acknowledgement.
Just so you don’t think hanging with this group is only for cartoonists, it’s also for animators. I met Butch Hartman (Fairly Oddparents, TUFF Puppy) this year, David Silverman (Simpsons) is a member, so is Simpsons writer Tom Gammill.
Plus, a huge number of series and features have come from comic strips. Garfield has won 4 Emmy awards, is entering the 4th season of his latest series and has spawned two feature films. Peanuts has produced innumerable specials that we all watch every year as well as a number of animated features. Beetle Bailey has produced over 50 animated TV cartoons, Grimmy has had his own series, and so has Baldo (which I landed a distribution deal for recently). Even Marmaduke has had his own feature. There is a big connection between comics and animation.
If you want to join this family of cartoonists (and why wouldn’t you?!), check out the eligibility online at www.Reuben.org . It is the most fun you’ll have hanging out with creative people with your pants on and without getting paid.