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A Strip is Born

I’ve always been fascinated with how other cartoonists work. Some I know choose one or two specific days to write, and another one or two days to draw and ink. When I’m working on daily strips, I try to keep to a writing and inking schedule as much as possible. It’s very easy to get distracted and veer way off course, and then find yourself in scramble mode when the deadline approaches. Sunday strips are an entirely different story. I create my Sunday strips whenever the idea strikes. It could be 3:00 am on a Tuesday, or dinner time on a Saturday. And I’m almost never prepared when I do get an idea. When one pops into my head, I’ll write it down on whatever surface happens to be within reach: paper, a napkin, the back of my hand (yes, I have done this).

makeready-process

The above example is typically how I work on my Sunday strips. 1. I get an idea and write it down as soon as possible. Spelling, grammar, and common sense are ignored at this point.  2. I’ll sketch out the idea to make sure it flows properly and fits into the limited Sunday newspaper format. 3. If I think it’ll work, I’ll finalize the copy and pencil it on the final Bristol paper. This particular example is very tight. There are times where I’ll work very loose at this stage. 4. After I’m through penciling, I ink over the lines. 5. When the inking is complete, I scan the file, layer it, and send it to my color expert and lovely wife, Anne, who splashes it with her magic. When she’s done coloring, I send the files off to my production company, Reed Brennan Media Associates, for review, editing, and final production (thank you, Ealish). From there, it goes out to the newspapers.

Unfortunately, I cannot let you read the above example because it’s not scheduled to appear in papers until June 9th. Since it’s a Rube Goldberg-inspired strip, I’m planning on writing a follow up post after it’s been published, so stay tuned.

Setting the record straight!

So, readers love that I referenced Harry Potter in Monday’s strip. Harry Potter!!! Really?!!!

I was stunned when I found out that quite a few readers thought the story Edison was writing was based on those Potter books?! Oh, sure, I’ll admit there may be remote similarities between the two character descriptions, but to accuse Edison of plagiarism is really reaching.

Thank goodness nobody has accused him of ripping anyone off in this brilliantly original masterpiece.

 

Cartooning Basics

Twice a year I do a 45 minute, hands-on cartooning workshop at a local school. One of the questions the kids often ask is what skills does one need to be a cartoonist. There are many answers to this question, depending on the type of cartooning. A newspaper comic strip cartoonist needs to work fast and write material that will appeal to a broad audience. The drawing style can be pretty much anything they want it to be. If they’re more interested in writing and drawing Super Hero comic books, I tell them they need to be good at telling stories, and to try and draw as much life and energy into their characters as possible. Drawing people can be hard enough, but drawing a figure jumping off of a roof carrying a sword and screaming wildly can be painfully difficult if you’re just starting out. If the kids are interested in drawing a super hero, then I emphasize the importance of figure drawing. I’m certainly not recommending to a group of 4th graders that they go out and enroll in a professional (nude) figure drawing class. I tell them to draw their parents doing things around the house. Draw their friends running and climbing on the playground. Find a spot where there are lots of people and draw them doing whatever it is they’re doing. It teaches them to observe and capture the motions quickly.

Drawing human figures is an essential artistic skill. It teaches you to see and draw energy, gravity, and life. An artist who practices drawing figures will also discover the ability to pour that life and energy into drawing a tea cup, or any other inanimate object. I’ve spent many hours drawing figures, and I’m a better artist for it.

Thank You, China!

About 10 years ago, Anne and I were cleaning out the basement and were shocked to discover two large, forgotten bins of kid’s meal toys. What we found so disturbing was not the huge number of toys each bin contained, but that each toy represented a kid’s meal we had stuffed into each of our three children.

I remember when it started for us. Our oldest son was just a toddler when Disney’s “Aladdin” came out. McDonalds introduced a series of Happy Meal toys based on the Aladdin characters. They were great toys, not too big or complicated, and each one did something really cool. But as movie tie-ins became more popular, the toys got bigger, more elaborate, and the number of pieces needed to complete a “set” increased. I remember when the “Inspector Gadget” movie was released. It started what I consider to be the ultimate kid’s meal nightmare. To build the entire Inspector Gadget action figure, you needed EVERY piece. If you missed eating out one week, it meant not getting his arm, or his leg, or torso, or whatever. So, if you started collecting pieces during week one, you were committed to stuffing your kids full of burgers, fries, and sodas until the figure was complete. We managed to get every piece of Inspector Gadget except his right leg. Our two boys had each been faithfully collecting the pieces, and they quickly figured out that if they combined their legs they’d have one complete, mutant figure with two left feet. He looked pretty stupid, but at least he could stand. I only discovered years later that I could’ve just walked in to the restaurtant, bought that week’s toy, and left without having to purchase the food.

 

One memorable evening, as we were standing in line at a McDonalds, an irate older woman walked up to the counter (past all of us waiting patiently in line) and asked the poor young employee if he had any more of a particular “Beanie Baby” Happy Meal Toy. She had apparently been driving to every McDonalds looking for that one Beanie she needed to complete her collection. She stormed out disappointed at being told that there were none. Most of us with children have experienced those disappointed looks on our kid’s faces when they learn they’ve missed out on the one piece needed to complete their collection. Fortunately, those lost battles were soon forgotten, and the toys became nothing more than a bin full of fast-food memories.

We still have one bin left that we keep in the attic. A good number of the toys had either been destroyed, chewed by a pet, thrown out, or given out at Halloween. Yes, one year, along with candy, we gave trick-or-treaters a kid’s meal toy.

Recently, Edison came up with a cool line of toys with a tie-in to the “Lincoln” movie. Unfortunately, Mary Todd Lincoln, when molded in plastic, looked a lot like Shrek, so he scrapped the idea entirely.

The first Edison Jolly Meal toy strip

The "Great Classic Literature" Jolly Meal series

Caricatures in Comic Strips—Why Can’t I Draw These People?!!!

Every once in a great while I’ll write a strip with a real live, famous person in it. The first question I always ask when I’m writing these strips is whether I’ll be able to draw that person. I’ll be the first to admit that drawing caricatures is not one of my strong skills. I don’t expect my celebrity drawings to look anything close to professional. I do, however, think they should at least resemble the people I’m trying to parody.

The first celebrity I used in a strip was Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler. At the time I figured all I had to do was draw the right mouth and come close on the hair. Putting him in dark glasses eliminated any issues with drawing his eyes. It wasn’t a very good likeness, but readers got the idea.

The next celebrity strip I did about a year later starred Gilligan and the Professor. These two were much easier to draw, probably because I grew up watching them on television. My father would occasionally wander by when we were tuned in and ask us why we would watch such a stupid show. At the time I didn’t think to tell him it was so I could draw the characters in a comic strip 40 years later.

Other times I completely cop out, like with the strip below that features John Edwards (before his great fall).

He actually appears this way in 3 strips. Drawing his $300 haircut was more than I felt I could handle, so I “simplified.” I do think I captured his shirt and tie pretty well.

I’ve been honing my caricature drawing skills in my spare time (which I don’t have much of these days) using Tom Richmond’s The Mad Art of Caricature! I’m currently drawing my way through my family. If you haven’t had a chance to check out this amazing book, you must get your hands on a copy right away. Hint: Go to  http://www.deadlinedemon.com/

Now I want to show you a few caricatures other artists have done of me over the years.

I was at a corporate party when this one was done. I was just 26 years old.

I remember her asking me what my hobbies or interests were. Can you guess what I told her? I wonder what she would’ve drawn if I had told her I was into particle physics and dark matter.

This next one was done by a young fan. I think she captured my over-caffeinated expression pretty accurately.

 

The following was done by editorial cartoonist Milt Priggee. I want to say he drew this in under a minute.

My friend Mike Edholm drew this next one. It was obviously drawn during the “Noir Graphic Novel” phase of my life. Mike is another amazing illustrator and cartoonist.

 

My teenage daughter Katherine recently offered up this incredibly accurate drawing of me. She’s turning out to be a pretty good artist!

And last summer I had the privilege of getting my caricature drawn by my friend Tom Richmond, the best caricature artist in the business. I’m always amazed and never disappointed with anything Tom does.

The illustration that included me appeared in MAD Magazine, April 2012, Issue 515. The parody was of “The Hunger Games”, and I’m the commentator making asinine remarks. The role suits me well, and highlights my extremely limited talent as a comic strip actor.

And speaking of MAD Magazine, I just re-subscribed to 3 more years of MAD drivel from The Usual Gang of Idiots. If you know what’s good for you (or bad), you’ll subscribe too.

 

 

Does it get any better than this?

As I was sitting in my studio this morning staring out the window at the beautiful snow coming down, a question popped into my head. I don’t know why, but it did (This may turn out to be a long post, so if you need to go get your coffee, or put the dog out, go ahead and do it now. I’ll wait).

Anyway, I found myself asking, “Does it get any better than this?” I have always made it a point to try and seize every opportunity that came along. If it meant moving to another city, then I’d move. A different job? No problem. A new career? Go for it, man. Despite this attitude, nothing could have prepared me for what I would ultimately become; a syndicated newspaper cartoonist. I didn’t see that one coming. Creating a daily comic strip for the past 6 years has been by far the hardest job I’ve ever had, and the most fun and rewarding. The Brilliant Mind of Edison Lee appears in newspapers all around the world, and I take great pride in that. It’s a huge part of me, and I plan to continue writing and drawing it for many more years, but eventually the day will come when that will no longer be the case. Then what?

The fact that I’m a cartoonist in the first place is all Anne’s fault! You see, I had a plan when we got married 27 years ago. We were going to move to Chicago and I was going to become a hot-shot art director working for a big agency. But early on in our marriage, she managed to gently steer me off course, and I wouldn’t discover what she had done until years later. The unofficial start of her diabolical plan actually started when we were first dating. Her father had a collection of the Charles Addams books, and she would show these books to prospective boyfriends. If they laughed at those twisted little comic panels, then she knew the guy was good enough to date. I loved them, and laughed, and so it began.

Anne was always a huge fan of newspaper comics. When we arrived in Chicago in 1986, we subscribed to the Sun Times because she said they had great comics (remember this, editors!!). I was never really into comics up to that point, but she slowly drew me in, and soon I was reading them all every morning, as well as those in the Tribune. 2 years into our marriage, and I was hooked. But somehow, reading comics was not enough. After a few more years I decided I needed to be someone who created them. In one insanely memorable moment as I was walking to the train from my office, I decided I wanted to be a cartoonist. I told Anne the minute I got home, and to this day, I don’t know if her first reaction to my shocking announcement was “Finally, my diabolical plan has paid off!” or “Are you completely off your rocker?” If she had any reservations at that moment, she did not share them with me.

Anne has always supported everything I do, and this time was no exception. We created our first comic strip together, and called it “Second Nature. ” The strip ran its course after a few years, but to this day, I consider some of those strips to be the best we’ve ever written.

One of the first Second Nature strips ever created, circa 1991

Many years, and many submissions later, we found ourselves sitting in our mid-town New York hotel room after the official Edison Lee launch, contemplating this unexpected path we were about to take. Life is funny that way. One day you’re contently strolling down life’s path, and then, without warning, you suddenly find yourself veering off in some new, unexpected direction. This happened again a few years ago, only this time with Anne. Being a cartoonist and a member of the National Cartoonist Society puts us in contact with other cartoonists. We are fortunate enough to be friends with many of them. It is because of these friendships, and our love of the cartoon industry, that led Anne to found the Kenosha Festival of Cartooning. I often tell her that she is destined for great things in the field of cartooning, and that maybe my purpose in life was to become a cartoonist just so I could help her find the path to her ultimate destiny. Whether this is true or not is yet to be seen. I will forever be grateful to Anne for nudging me onto this path all those years ago. I owe my cartooning career to her.

Does it get any better than this?

 

 

 

FREE FREE FREE FREE FREE

I’m always suspicious when some company offers to give me something for free. There are almost always strings attached. The only time I was brave enough to accept a free trial of something was with NETFLIX, and it was one of the best things I ever did.

Now, King Features is offering the same sort of free trial for DailyINK (DailyINK is the all-inclusive, online subscription service for the true comics fan). You don’t have to give them ANY personal information about yourself. Really! Anne and I have been subscribers for over 6 years, and we love it. If you love comics, then you should try the free-trial thing for a week. If you like it (and I know you will), then you can sign up for a full subscription for only $19.99 a year. THAT’S ALL IT WILL COST YOU! Every single day online and on your iPhone, iPad or Android phone, you’ll get unlimited access to 90+ comic strips (including Edison Lee), editorial cartoons and vintage classics not available anywhere else. You can also get your favorite selections by email each day. Anne and I use this delivery method, and by 5:00 a.m. every morning, those comics are in our “In Box”

If you are already a DailyINK subscriber, then tell all of your friends about this FREE offer! If any of your friends become paid members, King Features will give you a 30 day bonus on your subscription.

Click here to start a free trial today, no credit card required!

[link = https://dailyink.com/free_trials/new?ref=sat_blogs ]

 

Beam Me Up, Scotty!

Many years ago, a friend asked us if we would be interested in going through his old vinyl record collection. I love old vinyl, especially old jazz vinyl, so naturally, we took him up on his offer. Anne and I found all kinds of great stuff, including records like “Music To Read James Bond By”, and Mr. Spock’s Music From Outer Space.” When I first saw the Spock album, I didn’t know whether or not to take it seriously. I had no idea Leonard Nimoy could sing, and I certainly wasn’t aware he had put out an album. Some of the tunes include “The Theme from Star Trek”, Music To Watch Space Girls By”, and my personal favorite, “A Visit to a Sad Planet” (it’s a sad tune). After listening to the complete record for the first time, I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised. Leonard Nimoy is a man of many talents. The music is quirky and fun, and you don’t have to be a hard-core Trekkie to enjoy it.

 

 

TWINKIE, WHERE ART THOU?!!

When Hostess announced that it was going to stop making Twinkies, the first thing I thought of was how this would affect Orville. To Orville, the Twinkie was a food group, the entire bottom layer of the food pyramid, the most indispensable item one could have in the pantry. And now… now they will exist no more.

Sadly, Orville has lost a friend. When I heard the tragic news, I decided to write about his grieving process, and how he’s coming to terms with his loss. Follow along as Edison steps in and decides to manufacture a solution.

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