Friends of the Fiend 9: Mike Lynch.
CF. Hello, Mike.
ML: Greetings, Fiendish One.
CF. May I call you Mike? Mikey? Little Mikey?
ML: I bet you didn't goof around like this with Glasbergen!
CF. Okay, what are your current projects, anything exciting in the pipeline - that you can tell us about?
ML: Well, right now I'm waiting to hear back from a couple of major markets that are having their cartoon meetings right around now. I want to finish up some new gags for a visit to The New Yorker next week. I have a cartoon in Forbes, as well as a couple coming up in the Wall Street Journal. Oh, I was just rejected by THE REJECTION BOOK. All this is at my new Mike Lynch Cartoons blog.
Next week, I'm teaching some cartooning classes to 10 year olds, attending a couple of National Cartoonists Society get-togethers in NYC and Long Island, and having lunch with a New Yorker cartoonist. Then, off to North Carolina for the weekend to see some relatives and buy a new car. On top of all this, I really have to draw and come up with some new cartoons! A busy week!
In addition to being a prolific cartoonist and illustrator, whose work is published in publications as diverse as The Wall Street Journal, the Harvard Business Review, Reader's Digest, Prospect, the Spectator and the Oldie, Mike, somehow, also finds the energy, and time to Chair the National Cartoonists Society's Long Island Chapter, the "Berndt Toast gang."
Mike's commited to raising the profile of cartoonists, and helped to orchestrate The Overlook Lounge's (formerly Costello's) Cartoon Mural Event where, in exchange for some food and beer, some of America's finest cartoonists, including New Yorker cartoonists Mort Gerberg, John Caldwell, and Sam Gross, Mort(Beetle Bailey)Walker, Howard Huge, Lockhorn's John Reiner, Playboy's Don Orehek, and New York Daily News legend Bill Gallo, drew a gigantic cartoon mural.
(From left: Sam Norkin, Mort Walker, and Mike Lynch, November 20, 2005, beside the famous mural. If you're ever in New York, make a point of stopping by 225 East 44th Street, and dropping into The Overlook, some of your favourite cartoon characters will be there waiting.
CF. Did you always want to be a cartoonist, and set out to become one, or was it a gradual process?
ML: I always wanted to be a cartoonist, ever since I was a kid. My dad was instrumental since he had some old Pogo books and a Barnaby book that he passed along. My mom would buy me a lot of art supplies as well. My relatives were all artistic; with jazz musicians, vaudeville acts, playwrights, fine artists in the family.
CF. The work you do at the moment, can you tell us something about the process?
ML: I write and draw doodles in my pad. Most of what I draw is useless. More than half is not useful. But out of the many ideas come a few good ones. I have little insight into the process. This is sad, but true. I draw in a pad so I can easily flip through months of ideas. Sometimes I'll see an old idea and know a better way to make it into a gag.
CF. I know you've been asked this a million times, but what tools do you use, and what format do you work to?
ML: A Micron pen on letter-size typing paper. Maybe an ink wash. If you'd asked me 5 years ago, I was using pen and ink, as well as charcoal and wash. But that took too much time. I don't pencil very much at all. Sometimes I don't pencil at all. I thought this was "cheating," but I've since read that Patrick McDonnell has drawn his Mutts strip with no pencilling. It keeps the drawing process interesting to me and I think that the tension - of actually drawing on the paper instead of tracing - keeps the visual dynamic.
CF. Is the cartoonist a proper artist? I mean, does cartooning have the same cultural impact as some other art forms, in your opinion?
ML: Impact? You bet. Like I mentioned, I sometimes teach cartooning to kids. These 10 year olds are into the same stuff I was: Peanuts, Batman, etc. Cartoons are iconic. Love of cartoons endures for generations. Whether or not "us cartoonists" are "real artists" I can't answer.
I'm helping to plan a large gallery show of professional cartoonists' work that will open this summer. There's been maybe a half dozen gallery shows I've been involved in the past four years, so art galleries see cartoons as a draw. Whether an art critic would think we're "artists," I doubt it. But we're a big part of the Western culture.
CF. Is there any other area of cartooning you'd like to work in, if you can find the time?
ML: I'd like to try a longer form, like a strip or graphic novel.
CF. Who were your major artistic influences?
ML: Sempe, Crockett Johnson, Percy Crosby. These are just off the top of my head. I love Don Orehek's work. I'm honored to call him a friend. We're all part of the Berndt Toast Gang, that legendary chapter of the National Cartoonists Society.
CF. Who was/is your favourite cartoonist/writer, of all time?
ML: Walt Kelly. I love his inky line. I read his POGO books over and over when I was little. I even sweet talked a babysitter to read them as a bedtime story. You can read about this on my Mike Lynch Cartoons blog.
Like Watterson said, "It was the last of the 'enjoy the ride' strips." It was about the distinct personalties that lived in the swamp. The punchline was there -- but it wasn't always a joke. It could be an ironic comment or a subtle jab. A lot of fun to read and look at.
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.
ML: It will increase the markets. Hard to beat the portability of paper, and the fact it doesn't need batteries, WiFi, etc. The mere fact there are 6 volumes of hardcover Jack Cole Plastic Man stories tells me that there is an appreciative market for high-end books. There will be a new volume of Gasoline Alley dailies in June as well. What worries me is that there is not tolerance for new comic strip features that don't catch on quickly. And cutting edge humor, like Ted Rall or Aaron McGruder, gets labelled as troublesome by editors. We can only hope that the editor-less Internet will continue in the West.
I remember talking about cartoons at length with fellow cartoonist Nick Downes. He lives near me in Brooklyn, NY. It was a typical cartoonist bitch session: the markets are shrinking, harder to make a living, etc. And at the end we both sighed, and he pointed out, "Oh, well. Everyone loves cartoons." And it's true. Everyone still has cartoons in their cubicles, on the fridges. People will cut them out of papers and magazines and they become part of the family. That hasn't changed. As long as the love is there, the market - electronic, paper, whatever - will endure.
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?
ML: It would interesting to tell stories in another medium, like television. There are shows that look like they would be challenging to write, like Battlestar Galactica (the new one) and Homicide:Life on the Streets. It would be interesting to get a group of talented people together and tell a series of stories. But, honestly, now that I've said that, I realize that a cartoonist is a solo effort. That's real comfy. Not having to coordinate schedules and egos with a lot of people to produce a final product is so damn attractive.
CF. Is there anything you'd rather be?
ML: Nothing occurs to me!
CF. Thank you for visiting with us.
ML: Thank you, cartoon fiend, you've been considerably less fiendish than Stephanie Piro told me you were!