Monday, April 24, 2006

Friends of the Fiend 11: Rick Kirkman.

CF. Hello,

RK. Hi. I just realized that when I agreed to do this, I thought it was "Cartoon Friend." Now I'm worried.

CF. Okay, what are your current projects, anything exciting in the pipeline - that you can tell us about?

RK. Actually, nothing I'm at liberty to discuss. (That sounds more intriguing than "nope.")

CF. Did you always want to be a cartoonist, and set out to become one, or was it a gradual process?

RK. I've drawn cartoons as long as I can remember, which these days, isn't very far back. There's evidence that I was drawing cartoons in kindergarten. I didn't really set out to be one, I just always was one, some way or another. It was more of a gradual process becoming a professional cartoonist. I went from drawing TVs and refrigerators for an appliance company ad department to doing Yellow Pages ads, then Art Director at a large local ad agency, followed by freelance graphic designer, freelance illustrator, freelance humorous illustrator, then finally syndicated comic strip artist...all the while dabbling in various disciplines of cartooning. At times I wanted to be an astronaut and and architect - though not at the same time.

CF. The work you do at the moment, can you tell us something about the process?

RK. This may be long and boring, so if you have a short attention span, you may want to skip over this part.

I work with a partner, Jerry Scott, who writes Baby Blues. In the beginning, a lot of material was culled from my life, and Jerry magically changed it into something funny. These days, he has plenty of firsthand experience to draw upon. Still, occasionally, I'll feed him ideas (germs for gags, really) from things I remember, or have observed, or that I've been told by friends. I recently spent some pretty productive time in an airport, a great place for ideas.
The actual process is that Jerry usually works up two weeks of gags at a time, and emails them to me. They're typewritten descriptions, numbered for each panel, with dialogue and stage direction if needed. I've recently changed my process for dailies (it's a work in progress). Before, I used to draw pretty tight "roughs" and fax them to Jerry. Now I do a very loose pencil sketch directly on the preprinted boards (strip size--approx. 12 x 3.75 inches, similar to 2-ply Bristol), and fax to Jerry.

We have a great collaboration, and a good deal of that success comes from having been friends for about 30 years. We know each other so well that sometimes it makes us wonder if we were separated at birth. If I feel I have any suggestions, I either make them in the margins or draw them, and point them out, or in the case of more serious concerns, we talk on the phone. Jerry looks at my drawings, and being the truly talented cartoonist he is, he makes suggestions about the drawings--expressions, layout, pointing out things I've forgotten to draw or dialogue I've accidentally left out. We basically edit each other. Nothing makes it out the door unless we agree upon it.

Visit the Baby Blues Store for goodies.

After that, I leave the boards on my drawing table overnight for the cartoon elves to finish, and they're waiting for me in the morning to approve. (Okay, that's wishful thinking.) I used to photocopy the tight roughs and trace them on a light box with colored pencil (Faber-Castell Polychromos)--the reason being that you can't erase the sketch lines under colored smears. Unfortunately, using pencil has proved to be a painful work method. I was always much more comfortable drawing in pencil, but it is much harder on your hands because of the pressure it takes to make a line and hold the pencil, as opposed to a brush or pen. So now, the dailies (because they're drawn smaller than the Sundays) are drawn directly over the light sketches on the boards with Faber-Castell PITT Artist pens. I still use a little colored pencil for some shading and hair edges. The Sundays are still drawn in colored pencil (at approx. 21.75 x 7.25 inches on Strathmore 500 series Bristol) because the line quality of the pencil is so noticeable at that size.

I scan and add screens in Photoshop and email them to the syndicate. The Sundays are scanned, and I create a file on which I draw my instructions on a separate layer, and send them to my colorist, who follows the instructions, and does a fantastic job. When I get it back, I may make some tweaks to the color or add any special effects, then email the finished files to the syndicate.

Click to see larger image

CF. I know you've been asked this a million times, but what tools do you use, and what format do you work to?

RK. I told you it was must have nodded off during my last answer.

Visit the official Baby Blues sitefor details about the latest Baby Blues Collection.

CF. Is the cartoonist a proper artist? I mean, does cartooning have the same cultural impact as some other artforms, in your opinion?

RK. Yes, I think a cartoonist is a proper artist. I think it takes as much creativity and focus as any other art. Maybe because the materials are so cheap, cartoons get a bad rap as real art. It certainly has cultural impact. Look at how various comic strips have influenced culture in my generation: Peanuts with Snoopy, Doonesbury with Nixon, Larson putting the spotlight on science, Dilbert's impact on the way people look at business.... I would venture to say that cartoons have MORE cultural impact than any other art form besides music. Other art forms tend to have more impact ON "culture" than have cultural impact, if you get my drift.

CF. Is there any other area of cartooning you'd like to work in, if you can find the time?

RK. Not really. I started out doing magazine gag cartoons. I've done the comic strip, animation, greeting cards, advertising humorous illustration, magazine illustration, even a little editorial cartooning (if you could call it that). I suppose if there was anything, and I had the talent and opportunity, I love the idea of being an editorial cartoonist. But maybe my idea of it is more romantic than the real thing.

From Your Only Friend.

CF. Who were your major artistic influences?

RK. That's a big list: Charles Schulz, Walt Kelly, Jules Feiffer, Mad Magazine (especially, Sergio Aragones, Don Martin, Paul Coker, Mort Drucker, Jack Davis), the Nine Old Men of Disney, Jay Ward, Johnny Hart, Berke Breathed, Jerry Scott, Jim Berry, Hap Kliban, New Yorker cartoonists Weber, Arno, Addams, Booth, Zeigler, Chast, advertising illustrators Elwood Smith, Bill Mayer, Jared Lee, the painter Wayne Theibaud, Norman Rockwell...I'm sure there are many others.

CF. Who was/is your favourite cartoonist/writer, of all time?

RK. Cartoonist - Sparky Schulz, simply because he had it all, the drawing, the humanity...he could be goofy, poignant, esoteric, tragic. He used the widest palette of any cartoonist I can think of, and mastered it all. Strictly as an artist, I have tremendous admiration for Robert Crumb.

Writers...that's a hard one. I don't really have a favorite. I have favorites at various times for various reasons: John Irving sometimes, Alan King, the comedian, David Sedaris, Steve Martin, Joseph Heller, Harper Lee, Stephen King, Ray Bradbury....

CF. There's a lot of talk about a new 'paper-less future' and 'new digital reading habits', do you think this will affect cartooning,at some point.

RK. My contention is that until digital content is easily accessible in the bathroom, newspapers will still be around. But I agree with Garry Trudeau's theory that cartoon content is going to have to change in its method of presentation at some point. He's experimented with live animation where an actor wears a suit with a number of sensors that detect his/her movement, then a computer translates that to movement to a CGI model of the character in real time. Once that sort of technology becomes cheap, and the ability to deliver it at high speed is ubiquitous, then comics as we know it will be changed forever. Luckily, like Garry, I don't believe that will happen during my career. But a generation or two of cartoonists down the road will have to deal with that sea change. I also think before that, electronic paper will come to fruition as a method of content delivery (remember "Minority Report"?). News, comics, video, etc, will be wirelessly updated live to a thin electronic page that will be almost as portable as today's newspaper. Comics won't necessarily have to change at that point, but it won't be long after that.

Baby Blues Daily Ink

CF. If you had the time, and you were helicoptered in to work on anything you chose, any publication, strip, panel, character, book, show, what would you like to work on?

RK. Assuming that I'd know what I was doing, I think it would be terrific to work on a Pixar project. It would combine my love of great acting and storytelling in animation with my computer-nerd side.

CF. Is there anything you'd rather be?

RK. Besides independently wealthy and having a full head of hair...maybe a more talented musician and tennis player.

CF. Thank you for visiting with us.

RK. Thanks for letting me blab on about stuff. I don't get to talk to people very often as you can probably tell. You weren't so fiendish after all.


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