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Match to Flame – 48

posted on July 27, 2017

Well, actually, the arrival of John Darling was a bit more involved. It seems that not long after I had visited the syndicate with my Rusty strip, a submission came in from another cartoonist named Tom Armstrong. He had sent them a panel called Heads and Tales that featured a head-shot of a different celebrity each day with some sort gag based on that person. The people at the syndicate loved Tom’s art and his ability to do caricatures, but they were less enthused about the writing (or maybe it was the premise itself, because Tom would later prove to be a fine writer on his own comic strip, Marvin). As they cast about for someone to write for this new submission, someone suggested that they give me a call since I had just been looking to create a second strip with Orbit and Rusty (see?). So they called me up and explained the premise, and I told them no thanks. While I could have provided the gags they needed for such a feature, I really had come to prefer character- and story-driven work. But I also told them that what they should do is make it a strip about a talk show host who interviews various celebrities. This would not only provide a natural stage for the TV and movie stars but also enable more extended interaction and some character development to take place. They got back to me saying that they liked that idea and asked me again if I wanted to do it. I then pointed out that I actually had something like that going on in Funky with this character John Darling and the cast and crew at a bottom of the ratings barrel TV station called Channel One. This work had become almost a strip within a strip, and John was already hosting a local talk show there called Feedback Forum. There were already more than enough characters associated with John Darling and Channel One to easily sustain it as a separate entity. I didn’t feel that performing a Darlingectomy on Funky would harm it in any way because I already had plenty of characters to work with and more were showing up every day (mea culpa, Flash). I had the syndicate make sure that Tom Armstrong was cool with the idea, and then with his imprimatur I worked up a sample Sunday page for a strip called Darling. Everyone including Tom A. liked what they saw, and he and I began working up the first several weeks of strips.

From The Complete Funky Winkerbean Volume Three

Match to Flame – 47

posted on July 18, 2017

I was ready to send Rusty off in the mail to Publisher-Hall, but I didn’t. I liked the concept and the characters enough that I went to Chicago to deliver them personally. This time I wanted to be there to pitch the work and answer any questions, observations, or outright objections that might crop up. Cathy and I stopped for lunch at the Berghoff, an old German restaurant near the Loop, before we dropped by the syndicate, and at this point, I’d like to send a retroactive shout-out back through the mists of time to the kind waiter who came running after us with the portfolio containing the Rusty strips that I had left behind at our table. It would have been kind of a skimpy presentation without them. When we arrived at Publishers-Hall, the execs at the syndicate smiled indulgently at the strips and what I had to say about them and then said they would get back to me. And when they did they said no. This time, however, I decided to not let it rest with that.
When we got home I consulted my draconian contract, which said that the syndicate got first look at any new work I created and that, if they passed on it, I’d need a written release to take it anywhere else (going back to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster for a moment—they sold all of the rights to Superman in perpetuity throughout the universe yadda, yadda for $130 and ever since then young aspiring cartoonists have confronted the smiling businessmen with the stain of Jerry and Joe’s original sin on their souls). Having fulfilled the first contractual requirement, I asked the syndicate for a release so I could take it to the competition. And I got one. Interesting. I noted and then filed that information away in case it might ever come in handy again. (Which it would, but I’m afraid you’re going to have to wait until Volume Six to find out exactly how.) So Rusty went out to all the other viable syndicates and it met with the same reaction that I had received at Publishers-Hall (yawn). Which is how I ended up with a second strip called John Darling.

From The Complete Funky Winkerbean Volume Three

Match to Flame – 46

posted on July 5, 2017

My next attempt at a strip was a little less starry-eyed but still born out of a sense of fun rather than deft calculation. I had only been working on Funky for about three months when I was visited by an aspiring cartoonist named Bob Vojtko, wanting me to evaluate his work. He had a crisp, clean, and inviting look to his cartoons that belied his short time on the planet. I think he may have still been in high school at the time, but he clearly had some decent cartooning chops. I should have tried to discourage him and urge him to take up truck driving (insecure cartoonists, remember?), but instead I shared with him all of my insight gleaned from my total of ninety days or so on the job. Over the next couple of years, Bob would come by from time to time to show me the latest stuff he was working on. On one particular occasion, as I leafed through his latest batch of cartoons, I saw something that piqued my interest. Now memory can be kind of selective so I’m hesitant to say how much was already there and how much I later brought to it, but what intrigued me was a drawing of a little rabbit wearing big round tortoiseshell glasses. That was what started the wheels turning a little bit. I was amused by the premise of a shy little geeky rabbit who couldn’t get a date. So I asked Bob if he would mind if I took a whack at working something up around that character. Bob said fine, so I began assembling a cast of characters for a strip set in a national park that I initially called Woodsite. I worked on it intermittently for several months until I had the cast I wanted. It started with Norman the rabbit, who had to read books on how to pick up girls. He was followed by Ranger Woodsite, a forest ranger who was forever getting lost in the woods; a mountain goat who was afraid of heights; Warden Jordan, whose allergies kept him indoors; and even a fly who envied and resented the great reputation that bees had. The final piece to go in place was a somewhat disreputable bear named Rusty who lived for the big mixer/kegger that annually kicked off mating season. It wasn’t anything earthshaking, but it was kind of cute. At least it amused me, and it amused Bob. So we took some of the best stuff and he began working it up into a strip. Within a short while we had enough samples to send off to the syndicate of the strip that we were now calling Rusty.

From The Complete Funky Winkerbean Volume Three

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