1. Mr. Breathed, no cartoonists succeeds on his first try. How many tries did it take you to get a syndicate to green light Bloom County? How long did you spend developing it?
In 1979 I sent my college strip Academia Waltz to four syndicates. Rejected. I went back to school for a year. Months later, The Washington Post Writers Group calls. An editor in the paper was sent a few copies of the strip by her son. Found its way to the syndicate. A year later I was debuting in about 20 papers. A year after that I was in 200. A year later about 500. That's the story in all it's non-dues paying glory.
2. Given the state of newspaper syndication now, where do you see comic strips going in order to be viable or even survive? Will newspapers themselves survive in the next 10-20 years?
I love newspapers. I love the newsrooms, the people, opening big sheets of news during my lunch. But you tell me if it's not beginning to sound very, very, very strange that people open slabs of smashed tree pulp to read news that was old 12 hours ago. I am saddened. Things change. The comic strip as we know it now will go with them as they change into something that is… different.
I hope the web can figure out how to get really large numbers of fans to a particular strip. It is the only hope.. and things change.
I read the tech columnist for Newsweek blather on about how glorious the coming age of web cartoons were to be: all democratic, banish the dreaded controls of editing and syndicates blah blah blah shut up. He left out something: In 1980 I had a circulation readership of about 70 million Americans across the country. Web strips are lucky to find over a couple of thousand readers right now. The future for web comics? See M for Music Industry. Won't be anymore Calvin and Hobbes, just as there won't be another Rolling Stones. Diversity of niches and markets sounds good. But there was something warm and cozy –and downright thrilling– to know that the Peanuts strip you were amused at on any given Monday in 1970 was also being enjoyed by an entire culture at that very moment… in the hundreds of millions. Alas. Adieu.
3. Do you think a cartoonist just starting out in newspaper syndication today has much of a chance of success? Was it different when you were starting?
It's a shrinking, tightening, and more frightened market. Trust me, Bloom County would die a quick death if introduced today. All of us were born upon the eyeballs of young newspaper readers. Under 30. They are gone. Not just diminished in number. GONE. Poof.
I told my syndicate to stop trying to market new, edgy, political strips. They're nuts chasing Opus or Doonesbury or Mutts or Get Fuzzy et al. If I wanted to make A LOT of money, I'd design a strip with children mouthing homilies and platitudes with a biblical bent. It would clean up. A fortune awaits someone tapping into the readers that still stick with papers: over age 60. Naturally one would have to resist putting a revolver into one's mouth after a few weeks. One of you should seriously consider. Just lock up the firearms.
4. Webcartoons are exploding all over the place, but few people have found how to make a living at it. Do you think webcartooning is a viable money-making career? Or is it just a great way to get yourself some exposure and notice as you build up an audience, hoping to get syndicated? Do you have any feelings or impressions about webcartooning in general? (Like you have time to sit around surfing for webcartoons…I know it's a silly question, but we ARE webcartoonists…throw us a bone!)
No sugar-coating it. Web stripping is yet to prove itself. But things change. I remember being ABSOLUTELY sure there was no viable profit engine for website. Advertising was moribund ten years ago. Now it's exploding.
I'm on Salon.com now. I'll trade several million of my readers in Dubuque Iowa for a dozen of Salon readers. You will have to make peace with smaller numbers of more avid and informed eyeballs.
5. Those of us who read "Bloom County" the first time around remember its hay day in the 80s. What either cultural, political, or semi-artistic entity from the '80s do you miss the most?
The music. A president that much of the nation doesn't think is ridiculous. Great movies that weren't made for retarded twerps. A cartoon page that was so barren even a semi-talent like myself could make an impression upon it's windswept expanse.
6. Who do you think is doing quality work today, either writing or visuals?
I see exciting visuals and ideas everywhere. I think if I were starting now, I would head straight for the movies, frankly. They're eating up illustrated stories in every genre.
7. And now a goofy tech question: I think we can assume you started out cartooning traditionally…ink on bristol board. How much has your work changed with technology? Do you still start with "drawn-on-paper" sketches? Do you ink the whole thing and then scan for color? Do you work entirely via a WACOM tablet or Cintiq monitor? It seems many of the younger cartoonists we meet are doing things entirely on the computer from start to finish, and us old guys, who are not Luddites by any stretch of the imagination, resist that. We'd love to hear your comments.
Thank god for a tech question. I remember sneaking into a Doonsebury exhibit in 1980 just to measure exactly how big his boxes were drawn and EXACTLY how large he printed. I actually got a ruler. I'm surprised I wasn't tossed out. Lord knows, I'd been tossed out of nearly everything I did to that point.
I work on bristol board for my Sunday panels. They're about 24 inches by 13… much smaller than Bloom County days. I pencil in, then ink with really, really expensive and professional pens. ( Bic Flairs). I scan this on a Microtek over-sized scanner. I color with photoshop and steal images willy nilly from all over the web. I used to run into the library years ago for this theft. My Xerox bill was huge. My printing is now down in photoshop too. It saves me at least two hours over the old days of hand lettering and re-lettering and liquid paper and then more re-lettering. God's Holy Trousers… I can't imagine how I did it.
Fun fact: I use both sides of a board and get two strips out of it… largely because I no longer have originals that are readable, as I rework totally in photoshop.
8. Finally, on a personal note, I'd like to say that next February, I'm going to be 42. I want to have a Douglas Adams-themed birthday. Any suggestions on how to make that work?
Well for god's sake, don't do ANYTHING that he would have done. Dear Brilliant Douglas was a doomed man of excess. Stay home and eat some tofu instead. Miss that huge boy.
Continue reading “The Berkeley Breathed Interview”