Friends of the Fiend 27: Dave Blazek
Dave Blazek is the creator of Loose Parts, the panel and strip, syndicated by Tribune Media Services. Dave previously wrote for the comic Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist, for Comedy Central. Dave came to cartooning later in life after a career as a writer, graphic artist, director and standup comic. He learned to draw in his '40s, just six years ago. Amazingly enough, even to him, he actually has a degree in journalism. Loose Parts is now seen daily in papers all across America, and in one very perceptive Malaysian newspaper. Dave has produced three books compiling his cartoons. The latest, two hundred some odd cartoons came out in 2006. Dave is a ninja. He also lives in Valley Forge, PA, USA with his wife and two teenage daughters. He's just had his large and small intestines removed and replaced with two medium intestines.
CF. Hello, Dave.
DB. By the way, I just had the word 'hello' copyrighted. You owe me $50 just for using it.
CF. Okay, what are your current projects, anything exciting in the pipeline - that you can tell us about?
DB. Well, when you're syndicated, that's pretty much your current project all the time. I'm always working on Loose Parts. It's just part of my life. But I am involved in some other interesting things. The most interesting is an animated TV show I'm co-writing. Some friends and I were approached by a company with an established TV record to create a new animated show. I can't tell you who they are but you'd recognize the name of the show ... and the motion picture that came from it. So I'm spending a lot of my non-cartoon time on this project, and bopping up to New York now and then. The pilot script should be done tomorrow. Funny thing is, I'm certain they have no idea I'm a cartoonist. They think I'm a writer.
CF. Did you always want to be a cartoonist, and set out to become one, or was it a gradual process?
DB. No, I never wanted to be a cartoonist. I lived my life for forty some odd years with the thought never crossing my mind. I worked as an advertising creative and at newspapers ... specifically The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News. The cartoon editor was just strange enough to think I was funny and would run comic submissions from syndicates past me for my opinion. I kept saying, "I could do better than these." He finally said okay, do better. Matter of fact, be bugged me to try for, like two years. Then finally, I wrote about 30 samples and an artist friend drew them up. The editor showed them to a guy he knew at the LA Times Syndicate. The next thing we knew, some VP flies east and signs us to a contract over lunch. I had the fish. So we start Loose Parts. Soon after they ask me to write for Dr. Katz. So things are going cool. The the roof falls in. Dr. Katz is cancelled by Comedy Central to make way for South Park and I lose that gig. Then the guy drawing Loose Parts gets cancer and tells me he's pulling out. So rather than risk losing a toehold in the syndication world, I asked the syndicate if I could take over drawing Loose Parts in addition to writing it. They asked if I could draw. I said, no, but I could learn. They said okay. I went on a crash 30-day effort to learn to draw and six years and two thousand cartoons later, here I am. I know, I know ... someone begging me to get into cartooning ... a contract after 30 samples ... learning to draw in 30 days ... that sound you hear is striving artists hitting the floor. I can't explain it. But, hey, I wasn't a total neophyte. I spent years as a comedy writer, comedian and graphic artist so the form wasn't that strange to me. And since I spent years working at newspapers and in advertising, the deadlines of a syndicated cartoon seem normal to me.
CF. The work you do at the moment, can you tell us something about the process?
DB. I write for an hour or two, two or three nights after work. Then I draw and ink Saturdays and Sundays. I always, absolutely positively, don't go a week without having drawn and inked seven cartoons. Then once a month I crush a few long nights to scan and color and do separations and all. Then I repeat. Oh, and there's beer in there somewhere. But I work way ahead. Right now, my syndicate has all the Loose Parts for three months from now. And I have another 40 drawn but not put together. And I have another 20 or so written but not drawn.
CF. I know you've been asked this a million times, but what tools do you use, and what format do you work to?
DB. Pretty basic tools. I draw using a simple mechanical pencil. I work on 8.5 x 11 copy paper I buy at Staples. Then I ink the lines using Pigma Micron pens. Then I erase. That's my weakness. I'm a really bad eraser. If you look closely at Loose Parts cartoons, you can see lines I missed all the time. Then I scan the images into my Mac G4. I then use Photoshop to add tones and shading. I've worked hard to use some pretty harsh shadings on the edges of my people. It gives them a roundness and depth I find pleasing. I do have an office at home but I prefer to draw at the dining room table. That puts me in the midst of my family and makes me feel like I'm not locked away from life. I also like drawing outside on a wooden board I haul out to a table on my deck. I live in the woods so it's quite peaceful and lovely doing it that way.
CF. Is the cartoonist a proper artist? I mean, does cartooning have the same cultural impact as some other artforms, in your opinion?
DB. I honestly don't know. I think I haven't been part of it long enough to say. I will tell you that the cartoon world was so much more than I thought before I got to be a part of it. For instance, I thought that a comic should be funny and that's it. I was stunned to see the impact of serial strips, comic novels and other forms of comics and the strong bond between those comics and their fans. But I still remain stubbornly biased. I think a comic should be funny. I don't think there's enough of it on the comics pages these days. Don't get me wrong. I think there are good comics in the comics; I just don't think there are enough that fall into the joke-a-day category. That's hard: writing a good joke a day. I'm proud to take on the challenge. I want my cultural impact to be that I made people laugh. That's it.
CF. Is there any other area of cartooning you'd like to work in, if you can find the time?
DB. I'd love to give that New Yorker white whale a harpoon one of these days. I'd love to submit panels for that baby. But you know what? I'm not ready. I'm not good enough yet. I need a few more years. This cartooning thing is much much harder than it appears. The first level might be easy to hit. The small inceremental steps to get to the top just take time. I need to hone.
CF. Who were your major artistic influences?
DB. Well, a lot of my influences come from other corners of the comedy world. Your Woody Allen's, your Robert Kleins, your Monty Python boys, your Christopher Guest movies. Right now, I'm positively immersed in the stuff of a comic named Mitch Hedberg. Sadly, he died about a year ago but I urge everybody to go get his CD Strategic Grill Locations. That cat thinks like nobody else. Of course, there's Gary Larsen and the Far Side and before him, Kliban and Gahan Wilson. Lately, I'm spending of of time looking at New Yorker anthologies and just bathing in how much better all those people are than I am.
CF. Who was/is your favourite cartoonist/writer, of all time?
DB. Gotta be Larsen. Our brains seem to be wired the same way.
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.
DB. Oh yeah, absolutely. In that playroom in the back of my brain, I'm always wondering how you could easily turn a daily panel into a daily little animated thing that would stream over a phone or welcome someone to a website. And for any advertising media people out there, I'm open to product placement in Loose Parts. Just remember, I hate to draw cars, but I think I could manage a Jaguar.
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?
DB. Well, I work on a lot of different things in my day job. As a matter of fact, twelve hours after I write this I'll be on a soundstage directing three TV commercials. I've worked on short films and on radio shows so I've had a taste of most everything. There's a whole world of people out there who only know me as an ad guy or a director or a writer. They have no clue I'm a syndicated cartoonist. I remember once shocking a particlarly prickly newspaper columnist who told me I had no idea how hard her job was by informing her I had, like, ten times as many daily readers as she did. That was satisfying. But I'd like to try writing for TV. In fact, I am trying that right now. And I do have a comic novel in my head. Check out some of Streve Martin's novellas. I think I could grow into doing something like that. Then I wake up and realize I'm an idiot ,and that puts a damper on things.
CF. Is there anything you'd rather be?
DB. I'd love to do standup comedy again. I dabbled in it for about five years but quit just as I was getting good. Raising young kids and going to comedy clubs didn't mesh well. Like cartooning, standup is way harder and more nuanced than it appears. I find the instant feedback rewarding. In fact, I count the lack of instant feedback, or feedback of any sort as the thing I like least about cartooning.
CF. Thank you for visiting with us.
DB. Visiting? Heck, I'm moving in. Where do you keep the chips?