It recently occurred to me that I had a path toward Baby Blues even before Baby Blues existed—before I even knew I had a path.
In the few years before Jerry and I became syndicated, and before we ever had the idea for the strip, I found myself gravitating toward freelance work that involved drawing kids and parents. Or maybe it was the other way around. Maybe clients sensed something in how I drew that led them to seek me out for that kind of assignment. You can never really know, but things like that become more obvious when you look back on them. Among those magazine clients, where I was a regular, were Woman’s World, Redbook, Parents magazine and Sesame Street Parents Guide.
So, from Ye Olde Freelance Files, I give you a few of the freelance jobs just prior to the creation and syndication of Baby Blues. You can see a lot of the MacPherson clan showing up in the drawings.
All of the above drawings appeared in Redbook on their back page.
Detail of the hyena family.
(Above and below) Sesame Street Magazine Parents Guide
Click to biggify.
Sesame Street always liked big illustrations that covered the whole page so they could run the headline and the beginning of the story over the illustration. I learned a lot from the work of Elwood Smith, master of the watercolor wash. In the late 70s, I’d attended a demonstration by him showing how he prepared his watercolors and applied washes to his cartoon illustrations. I
stole borrowed his little background flecks and added some squiggles of my own.
It was 1984. The Macintosh had been introduced by the now-famous Super Bowl commercial from Apple that January. As soon as they had them in a store, my lust for a Mac began. I collected the elaborate, gorgeously printed brochures. I nearly drooled on them in the showroom.
I couldn’t afford one. The price of a Mac and a printer plus a few hundred dollars could buy you a brand new Yugo.
It had been two years since I struck out on my own to become a freelance graphic designer/illustrator. When I saw the Mac, I knew it was the wave of the future, despite the fact that it didn’t even have a grayscale screen. There wasn’t a laser printer for it at the time, just a black and white dot matrix printer with blocky resolution only slightly better than an original Mario Bros. arcade game. But the promise was there. The computer used what approximated real typography on the screen. For a designer back then, that was HUGE. At the time, computers had screen type no better than you saw in the movie “War Games”: green letters on a black background. Black type on a nearly white background was so enticing. The photos in the brochures made the screens look like they had a pleasant bluish glow. It was the glow of the future. And I wanted to be a part of it.
©1990, Baby Blues Partnership
Zoe & Hammie do the “mail dance”
When I first started out in cartooning, it was as a gag cartoonist. A gag cartoonist, for the uninitiated, is someone who draws single cartoons without recurring characters, usually just one picture with a caption. The gag cartoonist creates his or her cartoons and collects a batch of them–around a dozen at a time–and sends them, unsolicited to an editor at a magazine. If you are lucky, you get an envelope back with some of your cartoons returned and a letter from the editor telling you the magazine is buying one or more of your cartoons—and maybe even a check.
Rick’s bag of rejection slips
That’s how I got addicted to the mail. Back in the day when there were hundreds of magazines that bought cartoons, I would send out dozens of envelopes, keeping the unsold cartoons in circulation among different magazines. Every day the mailman dropped off his delivery was a day I might find a check in one of those envelopes.
If I was home, I’d check the mailbox several times a day on the off chance that the mailman was not on his usual schedule. After a while, I got used to the routine: how long each magazine took to respond if they were going to reject your work, or how long it would take if they were going to buy something. With experience, I developed a sort of internal clock. I could tell that the time to hear back from Saturday Evening Post or Playboy or Good Housekeeping was approaching. As the internal clock neared alarm time, my mailbox checking would increase in frequency. Continue reading