Reuben's Weekend and Art

Every year the National Cartoonist's Society holds their Reuben weekend, a social event for member cartoonists which includes a number of awards. Awards are given in different categories including magazine illustration, greeting card illustration, best newspaper comic strip and many, many more. The ultimate award is the Reuben itself for cartoonist of the year - this year's nominees are: Dan Piraro - Bizarro, Stephan Pastis - Pearls Before Swine, and Dave Coverly - Speed Bump. This year's gathering is in LA (Hollywood, actually) on Memorial Day weekend and John and I will be going for the first time.

Tom Richmond has posted his illustrations for the Reubens for the last 6 years over on his website here. As with all Tom's work, these are just terrific! (See if you can find Edison)

Another Great Comic Strip You Should Be Reading!

Hilary Price's "Rhymes With Orange" is another great strip that, if you're not getting it in your paper, you should definitely be subscribing to it on dailyink as I do. This one got an "out loud" laugh today out of John. 

You can also check out Hilary's website here. And  down on my blogroll at the right. 

And none of these plugs have any thing to do with the aforementioned money she lent me for breakfast (see post "Generosity of Cartoonists)". I swear.

Speaking of Earth Day: Curb Rescues

One "earthy" thing I do is try to keep useful items out of landfills so I keep my eyes open around the neighborhood on garbage day. My kids have gotten used to stopping on the way to school while I jump out of the car and grab stuff off the curb. Generally they pretend not to know me when I am doing this. 
Sometimes I use items just as they are, but more often than not they need a facelift. Here are some items that got quite a redo.

We actually have two of these big oak desks I found. One needed no work at all and is where I keep my computer for coloring, the other is this one in John's studio. All it needed was a new top so we used leftover linoleum from our kitchen floor. Bonus: linoleum is self healing so you can cut on it and it makes a great production table. Another note about linoleum - real linoleum - it is made from organic materials and does not outgas any petrochemicals. A lot of people think you can't get true linoleum anymore but you can. We got ours from Forbo - you should check them out.

These pieces needed almost no work.

This one is still in progress.
These are awaiting their "makeover"

Earth Day

Edison is proud to be one of 37 King Features comics to participate in Earth Day today by doing environmentally friendly strips. Earth Day strips are pretty easy for John because we have been practicing environmentalists for over 20 years and that theme shows up in the strips more often than not. But I would like to add a thought beyond just today and these strips. The media has been full of little Earth Day tips today of the "you can make a difference just by changing your lightbulbs and buying products made out of recycled materials" variety. I think that is a great place to start and Edison has offered such tips as well in the past, but it is probably time to move beyond strategies for simply coping with the environmentally unfriendly products we've already produced. These strategies cannot be effective if we don't change the production of all these plastics, pesticides, industrial chemicals, etc. We need to push for companies to be more environmentally responsible in the first place with better "take-back" policies and less chemically intense production practices. Whether you believe in consumer boycotts of companies that don't tow the environmental line, consumer support of environmentally responsible companies, or government regulation, please take a little time to think beyond just this one day and see what can be accomplished  if we work together. A cleaner, more sustainable planet is possible  and can only be good for everyone.

These Were So Much Fun!!

Earlier I mentioned how challenging it was to color St. Basil's Cathedral - well these were easier and they were a whole lot of fun! Fans of the strip may have noticed John has done several "Price Is Right" strips including the two week series I'm posting excerpts from here. That would be because, working out of the house for many years, I have watched a lot of "Price Is Right". I have to admit that, growing up I was kind of a game show junkie and one of the things I love about this show is how it feels just the same and is as much fun as I remember from my childhood. 

The big difference between this series and other strips we've done about the show was that previous strips just showed dialogue emanating from the TV. This time John decided to really get into it and show the sets and the action. As with St. Basil's it meant accuracy in the drawing and coloring would be very important. I was pleased to stumble upon a forum for game show fans who really appreciated the attention we paid to details - thanks guys!

Who is Edison?

John often gets asked if any of our children are the inspiration for Edison. This question has a pretty complicated answer actually. Edison is, in many ways, an alter ego of John's as are all his characters. I think this tends to be true for most cartoonists. Also, all of our children have some "Edisony" traits.

Having said that, our oldest son does have a fair number of things in common with Edison and for those who scornfully comment that "ten year old kids don't talk or act like that", I have to respectfully disagree. (I have also heard from many folks who swear we're writing about their kid.)

In that vein, our son has graciously agreed to let me share with you what John came into the kitchen to find this morning - son #1 reading this morning's Foxtrot strip and doing all the equations to solve the cipher :-)

It felt like a pretty "Edisony" moment.

The strip is linked here.

Dailyink and Comics Kingdom

As the print world struggles to find its way through the current marketplace, more and more people are reading their comics online. There has been much debate in cartooning circles regarding online business models. Some business models bring a lot of eyes to the material for free and the artists support themselves through merchandising. Other models prefer to charge for content up front.

When one has a syndication contract with King Features the first model has been - up to now - off limits. Artists are discouraged from putting their daily strips on the web for free and all merchandising revenue has to be split with the syndicate whether or not they are involved in the production process. Until recently Edison's online presence was restricted to primarily a subscription model called dailyink.

I think dailyink is a terrific value and very convenient and it is my preferred way to keep up with my favorite comics. I pay a very small fee ($15.00) for a year's subscription and I can have any or all the comics King carries delivered to my emailbox every morning. I also like that it archives a year's worth of comics and has access to great vintage comics and also puzzles and games. Best of all, John and all the other artists get a direct cut of the subscription fee.

Now King has launched a second online comic service called Comics Kingdom that derives its income, not from a subscription fee, but from ad revenue earned on the hosting site. The subscribing newspaper gets to run all the King comics, attracting readers to their online versions of the paper (and also hoping visitors will then move to other sections of the paper as well), the reader can enjoy all their comics at no charge, and the artists still receive some direct compensation for their work. The easiest way to see Edison this way is to use the widgets on the Brilliant Mind of Edison Lee website. Currently there 3 widgets - one on this page at the top right, one on the home page, and one on John's blog page (Lab Notes). Simply click on the widget and away you go! (And while you're at it cast a vote for your favorites.)

The up side to these services is that artists are compensated. Also, the space for comics is virtually unlimited, eliminating the need for papers to make difficult decisions about which features to keep and which to drop. (Making especially useless the ever dreaded comics polls - see above strip) The down side is that, currently, the pay scale is nothing close to that which artists receive from print newspapers. Features still need a solid number of print papers on their client list to be commercially viable.

There are other ways to view comics on the web for free, and there will always be people who delight in outwitting the system and getting "a great deal". But I believe there are also a number of folks who genuinely don't mind paying for something that they feel has artistic value. It is important to know that, while every once in a while a feature like Zits or Dilbert will earn its creators a really large income, that is not the norm. If you care about the future of comics, (because very few people have the time, energy, and independent wealth to produce 365 comics a year for free), please either pester your print paper to run your favorite comics (hopefully including Edison) or take advantage of dailyink and comics kingdom.

The Generosity of Cartoonists

Cartooning and comics are a tough business - especially now as the industry faces steep challenges adapting to all the new media. So it is amazing to me just how generous cartoonists are with their time, support, and advice. I would like to thank the cartoonists that have linked this blog (or John's blog - the Lab Notes) to theirs: Margaret Shulock (Six Chix), Sandra Bell Lundy (Between Friends - see previous post),  Norm Feuti (Retail and Gill), Paul Gilligan (Pooch Cafe), Piers Baker (Ollie and Quentin), and Alex Hallet (Arctic Circle). I am probably forgetting someone - let me know if I missed you.

Also, I have to give a huge thank  you to Lynn Johnston and Cathy Guisewite, both of whom gave John and me terrific advice about the comics business.  

I left out some of the syndication story in my previous post.  After about the second or third round of rejections by syndicates, (probably about 1994) I wrote to Cathy Guisewite and asked about representation. In the music business it is next to impossible to get your demo in the hands of anyone in the record industry without it first going through an agent or a manager. I asked her if the comics business was similar. She wrote back and explained that comics really didn't work like that - that syndicates sort of take the place of an agent, actually - and that a good source of information about the business was a magazine called Cartoonist Profiles. (We have several copies in the closet. Unfortunately it ceased publication some time ago.) This turned out to be very helpful and it was also good to know we were going about things in the correct way. 

Likewise, further down the road, when John got his development deal with King, we had no idea who to have look at the contract. Or even what kind of lawyer, for that matter. So I took a shot and wrote Lynn Johnston and asked her for her advice. Not only did she contact John, she took time out of her busy schedule to phone him personally and I want to say spent about an hour filling him in. In looking back I am astonished at my nerve even writing to these women - they were (and still are) huge stars in the comics world. But even more astonishing - they answered! That still blows me away. John and I are planning to go to this year's Reubens (more in a later post) and it is my great hope that, after all this time, I can thank these women personally. 

For a similar story about the generosity of  Arnold Roth (see previous post) go visit Margaret Shulock's blog on the Six Chix site.

Oh - and a belated thank you to Hilary Price (Rhymes With Orange) and Paige Braddock (Jane's World) who, after knowing me five minutes and with no idea of whether or not I would pay them back, lent me money for breakfast. :-) ( I did pay them back BTW)

Comments Trouble

A few people have told me they are having trouble posting comments. I'm not sure what the glitch is - I was able to allow Sandra's comment about Cedar Point and other test comments we have tried. I will talk to our web Guru and see what can be done about it. In the meantime, you may need to try your comment more than once or else email me at and I'll see what I can do. (Secretly I suspect it has something to do with that d&%$# spamblocker thingy that I can't even read when I try to duplicate it.)

Update: Well, we're still working on it but I suspect it is the "wiggly word" as I like to call it. If you can't get a comment to go through, try it again. You'll get a different word that might be easier to read.

Update No. 2: For my latest comment I signed out so as to approach the blog "by surprise" as it were. I think some of the problem may be with the "profile".  First of all, I can't remember any of my google etc. ID's and passwords so I just used "Anonymous" and that worked.

"Honey I Wanna Be a Cartoonist" The Flip Side

So it's 1991 and we have a baby, (John at first remembered me being pregnant, but when we went back through stuff we discovered we already had our oldest child) we have a mortgage, and I'm only working part time. John comes home from a long day at work and says "I've decided to become a cartoonist."


What would you say? Because your husband has just basically said "I'd like to stop being grossly underpaid as a graphic designer and become grossly underpaid drawing comics that may or may not ever be published."

What did I say?

I said "Cool!" 

Seriously, I did. Because I think cartooning is one of the coolest jobs ever. Also, I had been tossing the idea of comedy writing around in my head for a few years and had decided that, while I could see myself writing material for someone else, I really couldn't see myself doing stand-up. John and I had already written the occasional cartoon for family and friends and had enjoyed working together, so this seemed a logical step for us.

Of course, it wasn't quite as simple as that. We had to figure out exactly how one does this thing of becoming a cartoonist. Decisions about format had to be made - single panel cartoons ala Gary Larsen vs. a three or four panel comic strip. A daily syndicated strip or freelance magazine illustrations/cartoons. We chose to go for a daily newspaper strip. Characters had to be chosen and they needed a direction. John had a real flair for drawing comic animals and a tremendously strong background in outdoor scenes so we settled on a cast of talking animals set in the Pacific Northwest and called it Second Nature. In hindsight, the setting may not have been our best choice as we have lived 90 percent of our lives in the stunningly flat midwest. But mountains are more fun to draw. 

John got busy and started creating the main cast, naming them, and drawing them in a variety of situations. We had regular writing sessions and established a work routine that we could slip in around our other jobs. We were having a blast. We decided it was time to figure out the next step. The internet was just starting to gain traction and my sister suggested we start posting the cartoons there. This was something we could not bring ourselves to do. I think at the time our biggest fear was piracy and copyright protection. With my background in the music business we had plenty of stories of songwriters being ripped off. We decided instead to pursue syndication. Great. How do you do that? Well, John went to the library and picked up a copy of Editor and Publisher and it told him exactly what to do to submit to the syndicates. It also gave the addresses of all the people to contact. We got busy putting together submissions that followed the guidelines set down by the syndicates and sent the material off with high hopes.

Within a few months we heard back from Jay Kennedy at King Features. He actually called John up on the phone to discuss the strip and request more samples. Well, we were pretty excited I can tell you, and sure we were on our way to syndication. Some rejection letters started to come in from the other syndicates but our spirits weren't really dampened - Jay liked them and we figured that was enough. Within a month we sent the other requested samples. Shortly after receiving them, Jay called to say King was passing on the strip at that time, but wanted to be kept in the loop for anything else John developed. Eventually all the other syndicates passed as well but we kept at it and put together a sort of self syndication mailing. It started with family and friends but spread pretty widely before postage and logistics got to be too much. I want to say we kept on with Second Nature for about two years before abandoning it in favor of another strip.

We learned a lot from our efforts on Second Nature. A lot about the syndication process, the comics business, and publishing in general. But the most important thing we learned was that it was very challenging to work together that intensely on a creative project and stay happily married. Especially since we now had another child on the way and carving out quiet time to toss ideas around was going to be harder to come by. If you look closely at the strips here you'll see both our names in the signature. The drawing was all John but the ideas and actual writing were about 50/50. I think one problem with having both our names on the strip was that we were both very emotionally invested in our own visions for it and found it difficult to compromise or come up with a solution when we firmly disagreed on a punchline.  I was also discovering I had less energy for writing seven strips a week. We decided to go ahead and develop another strip that would be purely John's. The result was a strip called Bill which can be seen here. (Scroll to the bottom of the page if you go to this link)

John worked on Bill for quite a while and continued his graphics job and I turned my energy more to my music career and the kids. "Bill" took a lot longer to pull together because, in the middle of it, John made the decision to leave the firm in Chicago and go out on his own as a freelance designer. He came up with some good stuff while working on Bill but something seemed to be missing and he ultimately scrapped it.

After some time away from cartooning in general John started another strip called Edison and we decided to try working together again. This time I was adamant that I did not want my name on it and that it should be primarily his creation - I would contribute in a more editorial role, giving him my opinion when he wanted it and pitching ideas when I could. 

Edison went through a lot of different stages that are detailed in John's lab notes here and here  (parts 5 and 6) and we settled into a good pattern of working together. Currently the process mainly consists of John running raw scripts by me for input and then again once the strips are penciled up. Sometimes we actually sit down in a brainstorming session and write like we used to, every once in a while I write a whole strip from start to finish, often John just asks me if I can tweak a punchline and many times I simply say "These are great! I wouldn't change a thing." My other  jobs are coloring, which I have already mentioned in  a previous post, following the comics business on the internet, and now this blog.  All in all though, I have the easy job. Because I don't have the burden of all that writing I can also pull back and get some space from the characters. John is the one who has to find a way to stay energized about the strip 7 days a week, 365 days a year. I personally think he does a terrific job and I am so proud to be part of this strip. 

Would I still say "Cool!"


Arnold Roth

One of the giants of cartooning is Arnold Roth. If you've never seen one of his illustrations for the New Yorker, his album covers for Dave Brubeck, his book covers for John Updike, or any of his other stellar work, you have missed out on some truly inspiring cartooning. John and I had the good fortune to meet Mr. Roth and his wonderful wife Caroline at the Ohio Festival of Cartoon Art and also again on a recent trip to New York City. He also graciously sponsored John's entry into the National Cartoonist Society. While reading  Mike Lynch's blog I ran across this interview series and wanted to take the opportunity to share Mr. Roth's illustrious  (no pun intended) career.


Mr. Media has also posted an audio interview with Arnold Roth and fellow cartooning legend Al Jaffee.

Thanks to the Daily Cartoonist for this one.

Who Knew?

One of the things we want to change on the main web site is to update the samples. As I was trolling through the past 3 & 1/2 years worth of material, I encountered this strip from Feb. of 2008. When we wrote this one I know we knew Chrysler was in trouble but who could have predicted the way things would play out.

Update:  This from my morning paper via the associated press:

"Just a week after the White House scolded Chrysler for relying too much on gas guzzlers, the company is heading to a marquee auto show Wednesday to unveil a new SUV. Chrysler insists the Jeep Grand Cherokee, which clocks in at 20 mpg in its two wheel drive version, and 19 in four-wheel drive, is a crowd favorite and a crucial part of its line-up. Said Chrysler spokesman Rick Deneau, "This is a very important vehicle for us. It's one of the primary legs of the Chrysler stool.""

Just for the record, John and I live in a Chrysler factory town and are not hoping for the company's demise - our hope was that they would get it together and remain viable.

Well, we'll see.

How Cool Are these?

Our family loves to visit Cedar Point in Sandusky Ohio. Along with their great roller coasters and other rides, they have a whole frontier village and also a museum. One of the coolest exhibits in the museum is this coin operated Comics dispenser from the Exhibit Supply Company of Chicago. For twenty five cents you could purchase your choice of comic and take it home to color. (With John being syndicated by King Features, I tend to notice memorabilia from the King company's past a little more than I used to.) From the copyright date it looks as though this kiosk was in service in 1949 but there is no other information on how many of these were made or how many years they were in service. If anyone has more information on these machines I'd love to hear it.

Between Friends

One of the cool things about the cartooning business is getting to meet and interact with a really talented and interesting group of people. Back in the fall of 2007 John and I had the good fortune to attend the Festival of Cartoon Art in Columbus, Ohio. This is a terrific event that happens once every three years and is a great place to meet cartoonists from all the different parts of the industry. There were several interesting presentations and panel discussions and also many opportunities just to socialize. The only downside to my experience there was that I do not always immediately connect a person's name with their work and there were several folks to whom I was introduced but could not be sure if I knew their feature or not. On one hand, this was probably a good thing, as this is a pretty professional gathering and I may have found myself fawning over my favorite cartoonists to the point of embarrassment, but the down side is that I missed my opportunity to get to know some of my favorite artists.

One of those artists is Sandra Bell Lundy, creator of the comic "Between Friends." I think I remember being quickly introduced - I know we sat at the same table for a meal at least once, maybe twice, but I just didn't make the connection. Until we were in the car. At 12:00 a.m.. Heading back to Wisconsin.

Between Friends is one of my favorite comics - whenever I read it I feel as if I am reading about myself or one of my women friends, and I couldn't believe I had missed my chance to tell her how much I enjoy it. Sheepishly, I contacted her by email after the event. She very graciously told me that similar things had happened to her in the past and how helpful it is when, at such an event, the artists have their feature on their name tags. That was the beginning of a lasting correspondence, and also a discovery of her terrific blog, which is linked at the bottom right of this page.

For those of you that may not be familiar with the strip, here is a sample that I think captures Sandra's humor very well.

As with Edison, if your local paper does not carry Between Friends you have a couple of options to see it regularly, either on the dailyink or through Comics Kingdom. (I will be explaining these services in more detail in a later post.) Or click on Sandra's blog link below and then click on the animated widget that is on her site.