Category Archives: Baby Blues history

Pumpkins as far as the eye can see… [Updated]

I’m pretty sure that’s how the description went in the gag for this strip. I can’t actually prove it, because in those days, Jerry sent gags to me via fax. Hard to believe we spent the years 4 through 15 with gags being sent as faxes. We’ve since moved into the modern world and use email.

Jerry sends gags to me as little scripts. A brief, not-usually-very-detailed description of the scene, and the dialogue. The panels are numbered. Most of the time, it leaves me some leeway as to the setting, the peripheral action, scene blocking. If it’s really critical for a bit of stage action or direction, he’ll indicate that for the panel. Then it’s just a matter of who says what.

It’s a great system. I’m not too roped into the details of how he sees it, which gives me room to play around with the characters. The nice thing is that he says most of the time, the finished strips look just like he imagined them.

I guess knowing someone for about forty years pays off.

This particular strip, though, was his Halloween “trick” to me. And an early one—we produce the strips several weeks ahead of publication. I wasn’t in the trick-or-treat mood yet. Continue reading

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Filed under Baby Blues history, BBXX, Cartooning, Contest, Creative process, Drawing, Family, Holidays, Jerry Scott, Strip process, Where ideas come from

The first real live cartoonist I ever met

Today is the birthdate of the late Bil Keane, creator of The Family Circus. Here’s a repost from the Cartoonist Studio blog I wrote earlier this year.

Baby Blues title panel tribute to Bil Keane from July 23, 2000

In June of 1976, I met my first cartoonist. I was taking night classes at Phoenix College, and in my Art Appreciation class, the final assignment was to interview a local artist. At the time, my interest was in becoming a professional cartoonist, so obviously, I thought of interviewing a cartoonist. Bil Keane was one of only a few cartoonists in the Phoenix area. He was, by far, the most well known and high profile. How do you go about trying to locate a famous cartoonist?

My first step was to check the phone book.

And right there it was: Bil Keane, in Paradise Valley. I called the number, expecting to get an assistant or secretary, whom I would have to maneuver my way past in order to get to the famous man myself.

He answered the phone. I recall being taken by surprise. I’m sure I was flustered by this and probably tried to sound much more substantial than my 22-year-old greenhorn self. Apparently, I sounded legitimate enough, because Bil made an appointment for me to meet him at his studio in his Paradise Valley home to interview him.

Click photos to biggify

He gave me directions, and when I got to the big mailbox with his famous signature on the side, my quest to become not just a professional cartoonist, but a syndicated one, was ignited. The fire was fueled when I entered his studio with a view of a lush back yard and Camelback Mountain, and saw the map of the United States with pins in it for every city where The Family Circus ran. Decades later, Jerry and I started a similar wall map with pins for Baby Blues clients—many, many fewer pins.

I sat across from his drawing table and put my cassette recorder between us and we talked. For nearly an hour, Bil told me about his career and the business of syndication and I soaked it all up like a sponge. He was funny and friendly, and serious when it came to the business end of being a cartoonist. I thanked him for his time, and put away the recorder. At some point, I had mentioned to Bil that I was an aspiring cartoonist. Bil asked me if I’d like to have an original Family Circus.

Of course, I would!

Not only had I met my first cartoonist, but I had scored my first original. He pulled a daily panel out and signed it to me.

I wrote up the interview and passed the class with high marks. Not long after that, Jerry and I sent our first comic strip idea to him for some feedback, and he referred us to his syndicate editor. The encouragement from his response fed our persistence for years.

Recently, I unearthed the tape after many years of it being missing. It was an amazing record of my first meeting with a cartoonist.

And I feel quite lucky that it was Bil Keane.

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The Comic Strip Supergoup That Never Was: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Fogelberg

On this 44th anniversary, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young appeared at Woodstock on August 18, 1969, only their second public appearance as a group. Here’s a look back at how one of our more popular series in Baby Blues came to be.

In early 1992, my wife and I went to a concert—possibly the first since our second child had been born—to see Dan Fogelberg at the Celebrity Theater in Phoenix. My wife was a huge fan, and I had become one through her. We drove to the concert in our brand new minivan, which we’d purchased after selling our Volvo; we now had two children and needed the extra space to haul all the supplies and kid-paraphernalia and to give us room to manage car seats. The concert came on the heels of a three and a half year stretch of our younger one not sleeping through the night. We were overdue and primed for a concert date night.

When we pulled into the parking lot, we noticed we were far from the only concertgoers arriving in a minivan. The lot was packed with minivans. And Volvos. It was then that we realized we had hit that certain age, the age when we cared less about looking cool and more about safety and getting the job done. We melded into line with all the other thirty-ish and even forty-ish ticketholders who wore similar I-can’t-believe-we’re-out faces.

Once inside, there was an amazing feeling of relief, of escape, like slipping into an old memory. The theater had a bar, so we bought drinks. With alcohol, no less. My wife was happy—no, ecstatic—to oblige when she’d been carded by the bartender. We settled in for a couple hours of music bliss in-the-round. This was before we had cell phones, so there wasn’t the temptation to call home to check on the kids every few minutes. Actually, this was a time when I knew only one person with a cell phone, my art rep, who had one installed in his Beemer. It took up his entire console between the front seats.

So there we were, sipping our drinks and waiting for Dan Fogelberg to come out and sing to us. After a while, our drinks were getting low. I checked my watch. People around us checked their watches. We were past the start time of the concert.

Ten minutes, still checking my watch.

Twenty minutes, still no Dan Fogelberg. We were now restless and fidgeting.

Thirty minutes past due and our collective I-can’t-believe-we’re-out faces were turning into I’m-paying-for-a-babysitter-so-what’s the-hold-up faces.

At forty minutes, my wife suggested we start chanting just that. I was about ready to lead the audience in a rousing round of “We’ve got babysitters!” complete with footstomps, but Dan Fogelberg took the stage and we all sunk back into our bliss. At least partially back into our bliss. First we had to calculate how much the delayed start had cost us and determine if we had to find an ATM on the way home to make up the shortfall, or leave early to make it back before the sitter’s curfew.

Fogelberg was fantastic and chagrined over the late start. All was forgiven.

On the way home, an idea formed about how we could make hay out of the event in Baby Blues. I regaled Jerry with the saga of our concert experience and how it might make a good series of gags. He set to work, taking the highlights and separating them into five installments to create the story. Jerry needed a way to tie the story more into the world of Baby Blues, and thought the song, “Teach Your Children,” by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young would be perfect.

Sorry Dan.

Because space in comic strips is limited, and we need to keep things as short as possible, the group had to be cut to Crosby, Stills & Nash.

Sorry Neil.

Click to biggify.

Not long after the series ran, a producer acquaintance of ours had the idea to fax CSN the strips they were mentioned in. We heard back that they were very pleased by the series. Coincidentally, they were coming to Phoenix on August 9th for a concert. We and the producer were given backstage passes to meet David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash.

On the night of the CSN concert, we entered the parking lot in our minivan.

Déjà Vu—more minivans and Volvos than you could shake a stick at.

Jerry and I brought originals of the strips in the series to give to the group after the concert. Stephen Stills didn’t stick around long…I think he went off to ice his hand after the concert. As it turned out, David Crosby’s wife was a fan of the strip. He and his wife and Graham Nash talked with us and our wives for a little bit in the stark room backstage. Photos were taken.

So ended our little brush with icons of the Woodstock era.

We drove our minivan home and paid our sitter.

And I quietly thanked Dan Fogelberg for not starting on time.

(Sadly, Dan Fogelberg passed away December 16, 2007)

View the strips below: Darryl and Wanda see Crosby, Stills & Nash (Click to biggify.)

 

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Filed under Baby Blues history, Creative process, Family, Jerry Scott, Strip process, Where ideas come from

Happy Birthday, NASA! Darryl reveals 4 secrets of the cosmos.

On this day in 1958, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration was formed. To celebrate, Darryl shares his knowledge of the cosmos with Zoe in a strip from August 26, 2001.

Click to biggify.

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Year of the fortune cookie

 

 

This year was the 67th Annual Reuben Awards dinner. In February, Tom Richmond, the president of the National Cartoonists Society informed me that I was nominated for the Reuben Award for Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year.

From most people that garners a shrug.

To cartoonists, it ranks right up there with an Oscar, Emmy, Grammy or Tony. But in our case it’s even more special because, at some point in the 1990s, the award was made a once-in-a-lifetime award—no repeats.

This was my first nomination. My fellow nominees, all nominated by the membership of the National Cartoonists Society, were: Brian Crane (creator of Pickles) and Stephan Pastis (creator of Pearls Before Swine). The announcement of the winner would be made at the awards dinner during the Memorial Day weekend convention of the NCS in Pittsburgh, three and a half months from then.

I have to admit, for the first few weeks, it messed with my head. Every drawing raised the question, Was it good enough? After a while, that gets pretty exhausting, mentally. I was finally able to get to a point where the nomination stopped sneaking into my head. Continue reading

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Filed under Announcements, Baby Blues history, Cartooning, Rick Kirkman