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Match to Flame 151

posted on June 11, 2021

 So I decided to learn Photoshop in order to do what the guys in the comic books were doing. Now, those coloring cowboys in the comic books already had a decade of experience on me, and I figured that it would take me about a year to catch up—given that I’d also be producing two comic strips at the same time (and actually a good bit more, but we’ll be coming to that). Which is why I decided to tap someone from the comic book field to color the strip while I got up to speed. My son Brian and I were fans of the Batman animated TV series. I remember him coming home from elementary school in the afternoon and stationing himself in front of the television to videotape the programs with the appointed task of removing all of the commercials (and, yes indeed, I now have them all on DVD. Thanks for asking). When the TV material migrated to the comic books, I became aware of the coloring of Lee Loughridge and sought him out to color the Sundays on Funky during my learning year. When the first Sundays started coming through, I showed them to Cathy and she said: “If he can color them like that, why are you bothering to learn Photoshop?” Point taken. So I hired a colorist. Lee’s first Sunday was May 3, 1998, and it was an auspicious debut. One of Lee’s strengths was his color picking, and that Sunday strip is a great example of his skill. I’m not even sure if I can name some of those colors. Funky’s wedding Sunday in the town square came along soon after. It’s an incredibly difficult piece, and fortunately for me, instead of quitting, Lee turned a difficult piece into a masterpiece. I really liked the new richer tone that his coloring gave to the work and how it set itself apart from the rest of the comics page. In 1996, the primary East Coast printer for the Sunday comics got rid of all of their color files prior to that point. So no clean color files exist for the first twenty-four years of Funky. I’m talking about color now, however, because starting with this volume, we can begin presenting the Funky Sundays the way they were intended to look, which is important because the coloring would markedly add to the feel I was trying to achieve.

From The Complete Funky Winkerbean Volume 9

Match to Flame 150

posted on June 10, 2021

It was these two men Jay Kennedy and Ted Hannah who were crucial in helping me create a space apart on the comics page, where I could tell the kind of stories I wanted to tell and to develop an expectation with the readers for that type of work. And, since the stories I wanted to tell were illustrated stories, we are brought—almost as if I’d planned it—to:

The Third Cartooning Commandment: Thou shalt make the cartoon drawings as elementary and as simple as possible.

I’d like to say “don’t get me started,” but I need to finish the intro, so bombs away. As the newspapers struggled, they continued, as I alluded to earlier, to take the most unique thing their papers had to offer and make it even less desirable. So they began to steadily reduce the size of the comics they carried. Since we know from the First Cartooning Commandment that comics are only supposed to be funny, the art in comic strips, in response, became less detailed and more and more spare. The elegant and deceptive simplicity of Charles Schulz’s Peanuts art was extrapolated by others to mean merely simple, and so the incredible shrinking comic strip emerged. As cartoonists accommodated their art to the smaller size, the newspapers jumped on the opportunity afforded by the diminished art to make the strips even smaller, and a vicious cycle began that continues to this day. As I’d described in Volume 8 of this series, Chuck Ayers, my partner in crime on Crankshaft, had come on board to pencil Funky, and working with Chuck opened up the playbook for me. Instead of the artwork in Funky becoming simpler, it cast an eye to the comic strip’s past and began heading upstream in the opposite direction, becoming more cinematic and complex. Also, in my comic book reading (are you paying attention, IRS?), I was starting to see how computer coloring was beginning to change the look of the comic pamphlets. As the change in my writing had darkened my palette, I wanted the actual color palette to darken as well to reflect those changes. The color charts provided by the Sunday comics printers were pretty limited, sticking primarily (intended) to the light-bright-cheerful-sunny-skies range, whereas computers seemed to provide the opportunity to make use of every color imaginable. 

From The Complete Funky Winkerbean Volume 9

Match to Flame 149

posted on June 3, 2021

At the same time, the editor position at King Features changed hands and Jay Kennedy came on board. Having only recently gained editorial control of my work, I was wary of anyone with the title of editor and tried my best to keep them at arm’s length (octopus arms). I only learned after the fact that Jay had been one of my supporters from the start. When a printer threatened to not run one of the Sundays in the teen suicide series, it was Jay who stepped in to protect the piece and make certain that it ran. I only found out about this years later over dinner with Jay. He said he’d been afraid I’d get mad if the strip didn’t run and then also proceeded to categorize my work in a way that modesty prevents me from repeating. Suffice it to say, I wisely did nothing to disabuse him of either notion. It was Jay who also encouraged me to submit my work to the National Cartoonists Society Reuben Award which would result down the road in my being a Reuben Awards Division nominee in 2004. He also nominated two of the stories in this volume for a Pulitzer Prize. Jay would continue to have my back as he shepherded my most difficult work to the comics pages until his untimely death at far too young an age.

From The Complete Funky Winkerbean Volume 9

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